Whether it's for gigging with Joshua Redman, opening for Steely Dan, sessioning with Norah Jones or forging a new approach to the jazz organ, Sam Yahel deserves your notice. Find out what sets Yahel apart from other Hammond B-3 players and get his insights on why his just-released CD Truth And Beauty isn't just for jazz listeners.
Tell me about how you got to make music your profession and the organ your keyboard of choice.
For me as a kid (I grew up in Europe), being a professional musician was something reserved for the realm of fantasy, like being a professional basketball player or an astronaut. As I approached college age, I felt excited at the prospect of trying to actually follow the dream of becoming a professional jazz musician, but I had serious doubts about whether this was a realistic path, whether I had the talent or the drive to succeed.
And by coincidence right after high school I had the opportunity to do something completely different, and unrelated to music, namely go work for McDonald's in Moscow, in the Soviet Union as they were about to open their first store there (This was 1989, the Soviet Union was still Communist and under the leadership of Gorbachev). Ironically, it was by taking a year off playing music, immersing myself in something completely different, that I gradually realized that if I had any chance to pursue the path of professional music I had to do it.
In fact, I can almost remember the exact moment of revelation; I was watching a soccer game on TV. And I thought to myself; "soccer players do exactly what they love, and they get paid to do it. Being a musician would be no different." At that point, I came to New York, enrolled in music school here, and the rest has been a steady evolution since.
As far as making the organ my keyboard of choice, I'm not sure quite how that happened. I do know that when I first played the organ (my first organ was a Korg BX3) I felt very much at home, like it was a natural match for me. And I guess I loved the way playing the bass allowed me to connect with drummers in a way that I hadn't done as a piano player.