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‘It can cry, it can whisper, it can scream’: Local organ specialist puts pedals to the metal

The Peter Van Jazz Organ Quartet's Gunboat Bay Blues concert starts at 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 23. They also perform at the Roberts Creek Legion Jazz Night on Thursday, July 28 at 7 p.m.
A. Peter van Deursen at the Hammond B3 organ
Peter van Deursen at the Hammond B3 organ.

A fixture of the Sunshine Coast jazz scene is leading a crusade to keep a classic 20th-century musical instrument at centre stage.  

Keyboard player Peter van Deursen recently founded the Peter Van Jazz Organ Quartet, which features his vintage Hammond B3 organ alongside saxophonist Graham Ord, guitarist Budge Schachte and drummer John Rule. 

The quartet has been performing regularly at Sechelt’s Batch 44 Brewery and has announced a special performance will take place at the Robert Creek Legion on July 28.  

In the 1930s, the electric Hammond organ was marketed to churches as a replacement for costly and high-maintenance pipe organs. They became a distinctive part of the jazz soundscape from the mid-1950s through the 1960s.  

American instrumentalist Jimmy Smith popularized the Hammond model B3 in the more secular genres of jazz and soul. Club owners found that organ trios were cheaper than hiring a big band. Through the 1960s and 1970s, the unassuming double-keyboard console and pedalboard was adopted by musicians playing rhythm and blues, rock, reggae, and progressive rock. 

“What is the characteristic sound of a Hammond organ?” said van Deursen. “It can cry, it can whisper, it can scream. From soulful blues, to A Whiter Shade Of Pale, from Green Onions to Gimme Some Lovin’, but best of all it is the iconic sound of Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Lonnie Smith, Joey Defrancesco, and many more.” 

Van Deursen served for three years as president of the Pender Harbour Blues Festival, and played for a decade with the festival’s house band. He has performed at legendary venues like the Commodore Ballroom and the Yale Hotel. 

He obtained his current Hammond B3 from a church in Yakima, Washington, 15 years ago. The instrument was originally constructed in 1952. 

“When you repair these things, you take them half-apart,” van Deursen said. “You realize that all the wood is bolted together by hand. Under each key there’s eight metal contacts and a little switch. There’s a zillion wires. These things were made in the era of motors and vacuum tubes and big solid chunks of wood and iron.” 

Digital synthesizers can approximate the sound of the Hammond organ but it’s not a perfect reproduction, according to van Deursen. “When you build a replica, the sound is reliably the same all the time. And that’s not true of these old monsters. The sound varies a little bit and gives them more of a human quality to it.” 

This weekend, van Deursen will also be performing his B3 alongside his band on the dock of Ken Mellquist’s home in Gunboat Bay in Pender Harbour. Mellquist’s Gunboat Bay Blues: The Dock Project is in its second year of providing free, live music to neighbours and boaters. Mellquist organized two concerts last year to make up for the closure of the pub in Garden Bay and the COVID-related hiatus of the Pender Harbour Blues Festival. 

“We usually get 40 or 50 boats of all different sizes out there, “ said Mellquist. “Then a bunch of small dinghies anchor up or just float. And then a lot of people will be on their docks and in our bay. It’s a pretty small bay and the sound travels quite well.” 

The Gunboat Bay Blues concert starts at 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 23. The Peter Van Jazz Organ Quartet performs at the Roberts Creek Legion Jazz Night on Thursday, July 28 at 7 p.m. Reservations can be purchased at