Tony Monaco makes no bones about it: The Hammond organ rules. “My two passions have always been playing Hammond organ and recording studios.” His first two albums (Burnin’ Grooves and Master Chops T on Summit Records) were recorded mainly in commercial studios. Then he re-discovered an old friend: Cakewalk (later Cakewalk Sonar), and for his third album, Intimately Live at the 501, Monaco took a more DIY approach. “With Intimately Live I used an Akai recorder and transferred all the tracks to Sonar for mixing and mastering.”
For his fourth release, a commercial studio was again required for tracking. “On A New Generation I used a studio to get all the tracks down because this was a special recording featuring both my trio and the Joey DeFrancesco Trio. With two organ DIs, two Leslie speakers, two drum sets, and two guitars going simultaneously, I needed to concentrate on my playing. We did the whole CD in 3-1/2 hours with only one retake. I took the Pro Tools tracks from the studio, imported them into Sonar, and mixed and mastered the CD myself.”
For his fifth album, Fiery Blues, Monaco built a private studio optimized for capturing the best Hammond B3 sounds possible. “Columbus Sound is attached to a wing of my ranch located on four acres of woods. Isolated from the city buzz, the studio is relaxing and the mood can be creative. I set up the studio so you don’t have to wear headphones. When I record organ, I isolate one Leslie speaker and use a second for room monitoring.
“Fiery Blues is my first fully produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered project to come from Columbus Sound. I feel that I’m now free to record and explore my ideas without having to pay tons to get the right sound or take.”
Monaco’s infatuation with all things Hammond doesn’t stop at recording albums. He’s also created a Playing Jazz Hammond instructional series (available through B3monaco.com). “I’ve recently finished my new Playing Jazz Hammond — Part 4 DVD instructional video. In addition to lessons, there are seven songs that show my hands playing the organ (teaching drawbar settings, techniques, and so on) with my band playing along. It was recorded at Columbus Sound.”
Monaco intends to keep building his business in the future. “My goals include producing a ‘private series’ of recordings available only through B3Monaco.com, along with continuing my instructional series. In addition, I’d like to help other organists by recording and producing them and possibly getting them a record deal. I’m talking with Summit Records about starting a sub-label where I would be executive producer. This sub-label would focus on building a catalog of organ recordings: Jazz, funk, rock, blues, whatever, as long as its got the Hammond organ roaring in it somewhere!”
Technical advances have also caught his interest. “With Sonar’s new ability to mix in surround, I’m thinking about recording a jazz organ big band CD in surround. Can you imagine the sound of four mics on the Leslie? Or better yet, two Leslies spinning all around the room?”
Wherever his Hammond-fueled vision leads, Monaco feels that taking his recordings into his own hands was the right move. “I know the way the organ is supposed to sound. I like to be in control of what’s out there in terms of sound and quality.”