Melvin Rhyne

Discography by Michael Weil

Discography Pages

Melvin Rhyne was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on October 12, 1936. He started learning to play the piano as a boy, first taught by his father, an accomplished boogie woogie pianist. His education was completed at Crispus Attucks, the only high school in Indianapolis' black neighbourhood. A respectable number of well known jazz musicians came from the classes of its director Russell Brown: J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, Leroy Vinegar, Larry Ridley, Buddy Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, Virgil Jones, Otis Ray Appleton, and Rhyne, who listened to pianists Nat Cole, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, and Erroll Garner, as well as organists Milt Buckner and Jimmy Smith; later he became a fan of John Coltrane's quartet with McCoy Tyner.

At 19 years old, he already played with then-unknown saxophonist Roland Kirk; around this time he started playing the Hammond B3 organ, which became his main instrument. He had accompanied artists like T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, The Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, and Arthur Prysock when he was invited to join Wes Montgomery's trio in 1958. After that, Rhyne wanted to play only jazz. The guitar/organ/drums trio was Montgomery's working unit whenever his two brothers (Buddy and Monk) were not available, and recorded four albums for Riverside that feature a more restrained and elegant approach to the organ combo, in contrast to the majority of bands leaning towards R & B. Rhyne's pianistic style was the perfect counterpart to Wes' guitar playing.

The ever-present transportation problems with a Hammond organ, together with Riverside going out of business and Montgomery's more commercially orientated new producer, Creed Taylor, caused the trio to disband. Rhyne kept working in local clubs but moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to play and record with guitarist Johnny Shacklett (his brother Ronnie was on drums). Buddy Montgomery persuaded him to move to Milwaukee in 1973 where it was easier to make a living on music; Rhyne stayed there for more than 25 years, became a vital presence on the local scene but rarely recorded. This changed after 1990, when guitarist Herb Ellis invited him for a recording session, and trumpeter Brian Lynch, who grew up in Milwaukee and knew Rhyne since 1974, invited him to New York for his third CD on the Criss Cross label. Producer Gerry Teekens liked the results and invited Rhyne to record a trio album the day after. This started a long series of recordings for that label as a leader (most of them with Peter Bernstein and Kenny Washington), and with saxophonist Eric Alexander and the Tenor Triangle, as well as a number of sessions with musicians from the Milwaukee scene, although he did not own a Hammond organ at the time and had to deal with defective instruments on practically every gig.

After the death of his wife Rhyne moved back to Indianapolis, again becoming an important part of the local scene. He died there on March 5, 2013; his last session was recorded in December, 2012 when his boyhood friend David Hardiman had invited him to California.

Since the 1990's Rhyne had acquired the status of a living legend; younger musicians felt honored to play with him on their recordings, especially guitarists. That he was much more than a typical Hammond organ stylist is shown by two sessions in particular: a CD titled "Tracks" from 2003, for which three Milwaukee musicians (Jeff Pietrangelo, Jack Grassel, and Andy Lo Duca) provided him with a set of four keyboard instruments: Rhyne played bass lines on one with his left while using the other three with his right in a very imaginative way. Another example is the Dixon-Rhyne Project of 2007 in a contemporary funk based context. On the other side of the palette are the elegant organ stylistics that made guitarists feel like they were in Wes Montgomery's place. Rhyne's style may not have been as spectacular on a superficial level compared to his peers, but he had a concept for the instrument that was entirely his own. It seems he never turned down other musicians, especially younger ones, when asked to play a gig or on a recording session, even when it seemed out of his normal range, as with the Dixon-Rhyne Project.

Souces for the biographical notes:

Sources for this discography:

Special thanks are due to guitarists Royce Campbell and Jack Grassel as well as producers John Altenburgh and the late Gerry Teekens for sharing information; several members of the Organissimo Forum provided rare recordings and/or information.

Important note: This discography does not include Rhyne's recordings with Wes Montgomery made 1958 to 1964 (four albums for Riverside and three albums of recently uncovered recordings on Resonance); for a comprehensive listing of them, compiled by Noal Cohen, go to https://attictoys.com/wes-montgomery-discography-1948-1963/

While this is the most comprehensive discography of Melvin Rhyne's recordings available, there still may be items missing. Any additions and corrections are welcome, please send them to:
mikeweildiscographer@gmx.de