Organist John Medeski has become a recognized and respected player in N.Y.C.'s downtown jazz scene and, more popularly, with his group Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Born in 1965 in Kentucky, Medeski was raised in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where he began playing piano along with his father while still a toddler; classical piano lessons began at the age of five. In addition to his affinity for Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy, Medeski learned, and entertained family with, old favorites of the '40s and '50s. By the mid-'70s, he was playing professionally with dance and theater companies, as well as performing at recitals and competitions. By the time he was 13, he had discovered jazz piano greats Bud Powell, Cecil Taylor, and Oscar Peterson. Medeski then began studying harmony and theory with Lee Shaw, and also around this time started Western musical theory and counterpoint studies at school. Medeski decided against pursuing a classical career after competing at a gala reception when he was 14. After this, he focused more on improvisational and folk music, specifically African and African American folk music. Through the early '80s, Medeski played in a wide variety of ensembles, including chamber and wedding, was musical director for theater productions, wrote two musicals, and played bassoon. He started exploring the local jazz scene after buying a Fender Rhodes, and started the band Emergency. Often playing gigs with area musicians including Mark Murphy, he was invited by Jaco Pastorious to perform on Pastorius' 1981 Japanese tour, but Medeski's mother wouldn't let him! In 1982, Medeski won an NEA Award, and a year later moved to Boston to study classical music with Leonard Shure at the New England Conservatory. For his second year, though, he changed musical directions and entered Ran Blake's Third Stream program. At NEC, he also studied with George Russell, Dave Holland, and Joe Maneri. It was here, too, that he met Bob Moses, with whom Medeski began playing. The two would back many visiting artists including Dewey Redman. He was introduced to the Hammond B-3 organ by Mr. Jellybelly, who he began gigging with almost nightly with. Medeski has played in Either/Orchestra, Ken Schaphorst Big Band, and the Jazz Composers Alliance, and worked with Anthony Davis and Sam Rivers. He played duo gigs regularly at the Village Gate from 1988 to 1990, and then moved to New York, where he started playing with Chris Wood, Reggie Workman, and Billy Martin. Medeski also became active in the downtown jazz scene, and has performed with the Lounge Lizards, John Zorn, and many more. Medeski, Martin & Wood became increasingly popular as the '90s progressed, bringing jazz to a younger, often rock-oriented audience. Always known as a collaborator, Medeski finally delivered his debut solo album, A Different Time, for Okeh in April, 2013. That same year, he collaborated with guitarist Tisziji Muñoz on Beauty as Beauty. Medeski then joined drummer Matt Wilson's quartet for 2014's Gathering Call. In 2016, he reunited with Muñoz for When Coltrane Calls! Session 3: Living Immortality. The same year, he appeared on David Krakauer's Ancestral Groove, John Zorn's The Painted Bird, 49 Acts of Unspeakable Depravity in the Abominable Life and Times of Gilles De Rais, and Andras: Book of Angels, Vol. 28 -- the latter as a member of the Nova Express Quintet. In early 2017, Medeski also joined drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, and guitarist John Scofield in the quartet Hudson (all of its members live in or near the Hudson Valley) and released their self-titled debut for the occasion of DeJohnette's 75th birthday, followed by a tour. - Joslyn Layne