I first heard Doug Largent's trio play at a Carrboro Music Festival gig a few years back at the Open Eye coffeehouse. It was a thrill to hear that Hammond organ sound up-close in this setting. They were playing Burt Bacharach's Wives and Lovers (Hey, Little Girl) -- a very cool and swingin' tune from the early '60s. I was hooked on his playing.
Cut to a year or two later and we met, and I invited him to play a gig with me. We've had a lot of fun playing jazz together since then in various groupings. We've got a gig coming up June 9th at Irregardless Cafe in Raleigh. And I recently sat down with Doug to learn more about his background.
MB: So you're a 'Chapel Hillian' originally. How did you first get introduced to music?
DL: Yes that's right, I grew up here. I had the usual introduction to music, taking piano lessons in elementary and middle school. I remember sitting in church, bored out of my mind, but fell in love with the organ. It sounded so cool, but it looked so difficult! I guess I just filed that information away for another day.
MB: You played bass for a number of years before getting into the Hammond organ, right?
DL: Yes I was playing electric bass my senior year at Chapel Hill High School. I viewed playing music as the thing that kept me sane in those years! I enrolled at UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad--
MB: In music?
DL: Actually my degree was in mathematical science with a computer science perspective -- making 3D graphics, that kind of thing. But music was ongoing for me. When I played for Jim Ketch (music professor at UNC) he said, well you're going to play acoustic bass too, right? I was so excited for an opportunity to play on the jazz band that of course I said yes without thinking about it! I took lessons with Robbie Link, played in the UNC orchestra and jazz band (and also went over to NCCU to play in jazz band there).
MB: And you went straight into music after college?
DL: That's right. I dove in. There were a lot of jazz gigs on Franklin Street then -- this was the mid 1990's. In 1994 or so I played at Irregardless. I started subbing for players at NC Theatre and the Duke Symphony Orchestra. It was a busy time. But eventually I felt it was time to stretch and try New York City. It was a struggle for a while, getting work in music. But I lucked into a union gig playing six nights a week at the Carlyle Hotel --
MB: Where Bobby Short used to play--
DL: That's right! There are two rooms at the Carlyle. Bobby held court in Cafe Carlyle -- he was the main draw for that hotel. I played with a group across the hall in Bemelman's Bar. It was a solid gig, like I said a union gig -- which meant unless you screwed up royally, you could count on employment! I also started doing a lot of studio work, and that paid well and was fun to do.
MB: So when did you switch over to the organ?
DL: I was about 36 years old when I started. I think I realized, you don't have to be great at it right away. Just work at it. The journey became more important I think. I studied as much as I could from teachers in NYC, before we moved back down to North Carolina.
MB: What led you to move back?
DL: Well our daughter Jessica was newborn. Nancy and I thought it was best to raise her in a place like Chapel Hill. New York would have been a struggle. From a music perspective, I knew there weren't a lot of organ players down here in the Triangle, so I would have a shot at standing out and getting work.
MB: What's next?
DL: Well I continue to work for an organization called Arts in Action, which brings music programs into the public schools. That's a great program, and takes a lot of my time. And I play out as often as I can!
Recently I've been poking around in their songs from the 1960's. So many gorgeous melodies, pleasing chord changes, memorable hooks, and classic lyrics... a lot of poetry. The Doug Largent Trio and I played a set of Bacharach/David at Wake Forest Listening Room in March. After that, Doug and I got together and recorded a couple of videos of their songs. Drummer Zsolt David joined us, playing the electronic congas. Check it out: