Young Hammond B3 organ whiz Kevin Coelho earned renown for his outrageously precocious debut album, 2012's Funkengruven - the Joy of Driving a B3, which he released at age 16. JazzTimes called Funkengruven "an auspicious debut" with "the essence of funk and groove," while All About Jazz described it as "both viscerally moving and intellectually satisfying." For all the praise for his initial recorded effort, Coelho has taken man-sized strides with his second album, the aptly titled Turn It Up, to be released October 8, 2013, via Chicken Coup/Summit. A feast for fans of vintage sounds, Turn It Up finds Coelho - now 18 - venturing a brace of organ-trio classics ("Georgia on My Mind," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," Jimmy Smith's "Root Down"). Yet the already-enterprising organist also puts a funky soul-jazz spin on the Beatles' "Come Together," War's "The World Is a Ghetto" and even Prince's very first single, "Soft & Wet." That's not to mention two playful, swinging Coelho originals. For the sessions, the organist reunited with guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson, his partners from Funkengruven and also the usual trio mates of Coelho's mentor, B3 master Tony Monaco, who says about his protégé: "Kevin is a fascinating, brilliant young musician who is growing up fast."
With his new album, Coelho was "chasing a club vibe," he says. "The organ in jazz is a club instrument, after all, having gotten its start on the Chitlin' Circuit. That's why I called it Turn It Up, because the record was meant to have that dancing spirit, that groove-to-the-music, turn-it-up vibe. While making this album, I wanted it to be fun - to make music that people would put on in the car for a long drive or something you'd play when you've had a hard day and want to feel better. Take 'Come Together,' 'The World Is a Ghetto' and 'Soft & Wet' - they're the kind of songs that people really connect with and jam out to. The original versions were very grooving and melodically compelling, so it felt easy to incorporate them into the organ-trio world, transforming them a bit but trying to retain the essence of what makes people feel good - because when listeners feel good, that makes me feel good as a musician."
Coelho has evolved as a musician in just the two years since his first release, he says: "I've grown and grown up. Making the first album, I was highly influenced by Tony Monaco - learning at his elbow was a wonderful process. He's a real master of the instrument. But with this new album, I'm more of my own man. I was freer with the instrument, freer to explore different aspects of it. And I approach the tunes with more of an arranger's mind now rather than just as a player. The arrangements are far tighter on this album and subtler, with more detail but also more arc and flow."
As a trio, Coelho, DiCenzo and Jackson had more gigs under their belts by the time it came to record Turn It Up, the organist points out: "We were tighter as musicians and as people. I'm a lot more attuned to what Reggie's feel is now, so I'm better at anticipating what he's going to do rhythmically. He really knows how to drive the music - his time is so solid. Even if he does some crazy polyrhythmic thing, he always brings it back to the '1.' Derek is all about feel and atmosphere. He thrives on a vibe. I've never heard him play the same thing twice - he's always throwing something different at you. Working with him has made me a better player, and I know now how to give him more space to do his thing."
Along with his organ-trio work, Coelho has joined the Bay Area soul-funk band the St. Valentinez as a keyboardist, with the group playing everything from Stevie Wonder to Jay-Z. "They're an incredible group and playing with them has really expanded my world," he says. "I spent all my years as kid studying old jazz and records from the '60s and '70s, but thanks to these guys, I've been listening to a lot more modern R&B, rock and neo-soul, which has given me fresh ideas beyond the soul-jazz idiom. Plus, headlining clubs in the Bay Area with the St. Valentinez has made me think differently about life as a musician. There are two paths, basically. You can aim to fulfill your own intellectual curiosity with music, pursuing a vision that satisfies your creative drive first. Or you can play music for others, for an audience - in other words, be an entertainer. Of course, it's all about balancing the two sides, experimenting and entertaining. Today, though, I'm leaning toward playing for an audience, thinking about what I'd like to hear as a listener and hoping that other people dig it, too. That was the aim with Turn It Up - I want people to dig it."
Coelho, who was born on August 29, 1995, started studying classical piano at age 6. He fell in love with the sound of the Hammond B3 when he first heard a recording of "Green Onions" by Booker T & the MGs, and he eventually graduated to adoring the records of jazz organists Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith and Don Patterson. Coelho began his jazz and organ studies at age 11; along with Randy Masters and Tony Monaco, his jazz teachers include noted Bay Area Hammond B3 player Wil Blades and keyboardist Peter Horvath. The young musician has also had master classes with Larry Goldings and Bennet Paster, among others. In 2010, Coelho attended and performed at the Eastman School of Music Summer Jazz program as a rare freshman to be admitted. He participated in and performed at the Stanford Jazz Workshop for seven years running, winning the Outstanding Soloist award multiple times. He was also honored with the prestigious Shape of Jazz to Come award and the Merit Scholarship. Previous winners of the scholarship include Julian Lage and Taylor Eigsti. Coelho performed at the San Jose Jazz Festival in 2011 and 2012, and also played in the Stanford Jazz Festival in 2011 and 2013 with Robben Ford and Henry Butler respectively. Over the past few years, he has played clubs and corporate events across the country with such musicians as Akira Tana, Jason Lewis, Chester Thompson, Darrell Green, Nicholas Payton, Donald Harrison Jr., Brian Pardo, Bruce Forman, Barry Finnerty, Calvin Keys, Brandon Etzler and Joe Cohen among others. Along with headlining Bay Area clubs such as Slims and the Milk Bar as keyboardist with the band St. Valentinez (which he also manages) and performing some of the Bay Area's best venues with his organ-trio, Coelho is a freshman at Stanford University, studying computer science.