Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Hatza, Gregory (Gust)

Hatza, Gregory (Gust), keyboards, composer; b. Reading, PA, 4 December 1947. His parents are Gust and Gwen Hatza. He has a Bachelor of Music from Peabody Conservatory-Baltimore, MD, where he graduated from in 1971. He also has a Master of Education from Towson State University-Baltimore, MD, where he graduated from 1979. He's studied jazz composition under Bill Russo at Peabody Conservatory and Hank Levy at Towson State University.

Hatza's musical instincts came to him as early and as naturally as the ability to walk, and he was picking out blues and boogie-woogie tunes on the piano around age four before starting formal lessons shortly thereafter.  The Hammond B-3 became his life's obsession as a teenager, when a friend turned him on to records by Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Ray Charles, and Johnny Hammond Smith.  His first professional gig on the instrument came when he was 16, with the Frankie Scott Trio, where he played around small towns in central Pennsylvania.

Because there were no jazz organ instructors at the time, Greg was largely self-taught, picking up most of his insider knowledge from the organ players at jam sessions at a local club called the Grand Hotel, which was host to groups from Philadelphia and Delaware.  It was at the Grand that Baltimore Colts football great and jazz fan Lenny Moore asked the teenager to perform at a club he was opening in Baltimore.  Moore became Greg's manager, and Baltimore became Greg's home.  The organist played at the club for four years and was something of a young jazz lion himself, recording two albums for MCA subsidiary label Coral Records, The Wizardry of Greg Hatza and Organized Jazz.  These recordings featured the late guitarist Eric Gale and drummer Grady Tate.     

In the late Sixties, Baltimore was still an "organ" town and had it's share of great players.  It was here that Greg really got a chance to hone his jazz organ skills by playing with the best musicians in town.  Also, Lenny's club was a great stopping point for a lot of the national jazz artists who came to Baltimore to perform.  It was here that Greg met his mentor Jimmy Smith.  Jimmy and Greg closed down the club one night, playing 'til three in the morning.  Jimmy later advised Greg on his newly to be recorded albums.  He also met, and got to play in jam sessions, with such personalities as Kenny Burrell, Groove Holmes, Domita Joe, Philly Joe Jones, Roland Kirk, Les McCann, James Moody, and Sonny Stitt.

Then came the trend towards more advanced electronic keyboards and rhythms, and Greg's bright Hammond B-3 dream was put on hold.  A diverse performer who has also done professional country and R&B gigs, Greg adapted to the trend, switching to the electric keyboard and piano, which he played in different be-bop groups and as a member of his contemporary fusion band Moon August. He also expanded his stylistic scope over the years to include distinct ethnic elements.

In 1974, Greg began to study tabla, and later sitar.  He would continue with his studies for ten years under Ustad Hamid Hossain.  Greg later performed ragas on piano, in concert with Hamid, in the US, India, and Bangladesh.  In 1986, he won first place on tabla in the annual "All Indian Music Competition" held at UMBC in Maryland.  In 1996, Greg started to study Chinese classical music on the erhu, a two stringed Chinese fiddle, under a Shanghai instructor, Liang Shan Tang.

Finally complementing his club smarts with formal education, Greg received a degree in composition from the Peabody Conservatory, and a Master's from Baltimore's Towson State University, where he taught jazz, piano composition, improvisation and music theory for many years.  "Students who came in as piano majors always got excited when I played the organ, and some wanted to switch to the B-3 as a result," Greg reflects.  "I showed them different techniques in playing the various keyboard instruments.  I also oversaw small jazz combos, work which I found rewarding, helping kids play standard tunes.

Also while at Towson, Greg initiated and organized a series of jazz concerts.  He performed with artists such as David Liebman, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Dennis Chambers, and Dave Samuels.  Greg also participated in many jazz clinics throughout the Midwest with Stan Kenton, and later performed with the Towson Jazz Faculty Quartet in St. Petersburg, Russia.

He always thought that the body-mind-spirit development was ongoing and essential for health of the total being.  Music encompasses all three: body (physical practice and execution), mind (theory, principles, and comprehension), and spirit (tapping into your higher self.... being in the moment).  However, long physical practice of an instrument can lead to body stagnation, poor posture and low energy.  So at age twenty, he turned to the Asian martial arts for bringing more vitality and discipline to his physical and mental self.  At first, he entered it for pure self-defense aspects, but later through the years he found a definite marriage between the two disciplines.  There is a definite correlation between the study and performance of jazz and the discipline practice of studying internal martial arts (i.e. pakua chang, tai chi, or hsing-I).  He's now been involved with martial arts for over thirty years. 

During the past few years, a popular trend has taken hold in the jazz world, the comeback of the Hammond B-3 organ.  Under the influence of the great Jimmy Smith in the '60's, the instrument had become so popular that it seemed that ever major city featured organ combos in their neighborhood bar.  Then in the '70's, with the rise of the electric piano, synthesizers and disco rhythms, the organ went into a near complete eclipse, and almost became extinct.

Hatza's career has paralleled closely the ups and downs of the organ, but as with the instrument, he has survived the lean years and is currently in prime form.  The turning point for Greg occurred in 1995 when he met Joey DeFrancesco, a member of the new generation of organ players.  Joey collected all the old organ recordings and had Greg's old albums, released by MCA subsidiary label Coral Records.  Through a friend, Greg heard Joey wanted to meet, so he went to hear Joey play at a local jazz club, the New Haven Lounge.  There they met for the first time, and they talked all night 'til closing.  Joey convinced Greg to start playing the organ again, telling him "the B-3 was back to stay."  Soon after that, the first Greg Hatza Organization CD was recorded and released.  Greg's comeback was on its way.

Since then, Greg has recorded four CD's under the Greg Hatza organization banner.  The group has performed nationally and internationally with premier performances at the Blue Note, in New York and Fukuoka, Japan.
Moon August is an energetic contemporary jazz sextet based in Baltimore.  Greg Hatza formed the group in 1974.  It is still one of the most popular contemporary groups in the area.  Through the years, the group has released five recordings.

Selected as the number one jazz group from over fifty contestants at the First Annual Jazz Quest held at the 1983 Eubie Blake Festival, Moon August increased their notoriety in the Baltimore/Washington area.  Their consistent appearance at the major festivals in the area includes the Baltimore City Fair, Artscape 1983, 1985, 1987, and as a featured performer at the Artscape 1988, The Kool Jazz Festival, and was an annual featured performer at the Johns Hopkins Spring Fair.  Additionally, Moon August was named as the number one jazz band in the Maryland/Washington area by Maryland Musician Magazine from 1985 to 1987.

In 1990, Moon August was chosen by the Washington D.C. Council of the Arts to perform at the San Remo Jazz Festival.  Also appearing at the festival were Dizzy Gillespie, the United Nations Band, the McCoy Tyner All Stars, and the Terence Planchard Quintet. In 1999, Moon August was awarded the title, "Cultural Ambassadors," for the city of Baltimore under Mayor Schmocke.  The group traveled to Kawasaki, Japan for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Kawasaki/Baltimore Sister City Exchange.  While there, Moon August performed in a series of concerts and appeared in some television interviews. 

Hatza is married to Suk Mei Ng.

Moon August: Just Another Gig (1979), Feelin' Free (1983), Potion (1989), Hard Times (1992), Best of Moon August Special Edition (1999); Greg Hatza Organization: The Greg Hartza Organization (1995), In My Pocket (1996), Snake Eyes (1998), To a New Place (2001)

Geoff X. Alexander with Robert L. Doerschuk  Keyboard Magazine,  1989
Geoffrey Himes The Columbia Flier, 1997

Contact information:
website: www.greghatza.com

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