Doug Carn’s Big Moment


Keyboard legend Doug Carn

(Photo: Fabian Brennecke)

After almost 50 years, organist Doug Carn is having one of his biggest moments. A series of albums he recorded in the early 1970s laid the groundwork for the spiritual jazz movement that young musicians around the world are pursuing today. Those LPs are being reissued now, and Carn recently recorded with two collaborators who brought in their experiences from funk and hip-hop. Now 72, Carn dropped hints about his influence while adding advice about how to endure.

“Never use all your strength,” Carn said over the phone from his home in St. Augustine, Florida. “You don’t have to blow up everything to prove a point. Don’t overdo it, man. Just go for the purity. You have to realize that your personality is you, whatever you do is going to be special, anyway.”

This calm determination pervades those albums that Carn recorded for the Black Jazz company (which are being reissued through Real Gone Music). His religiously inspired compositions highlighted the label’s mission of raising consciousness. He also added original lyrics to popular jazz instrumentals. His vocalist wife, Jean Carn, elevated these songs on Infant Eyes (1971), Spirit Of The New Land (1972) and Revelation (1973).

“Jean had a tremendous range,” Carn said. “I didn’t have to not do something because she couldn’t sing it. She could sing as high as a trumpet and lower than a tenor saxophone and way longer.”

Along with the inspirational tone that the couple conveyed throughout these albums, Carn anticipated future musical developments through his harmonic extensions on an array of electric keyboards, including synthesizers that had just been developed. Through it all, he remained anchored to a quintessential Hammond B-3 jazz organ groove.

“When synthesizers came out, it was beautiful,” Carn said. “You could make a lot of noise, but some beautiful stuff, too. All the new keyboards had great practicality. I use them like seasoning. Sometimes people use too much garlic and the seasoning should never overpower the flavor of the main dish. I used to go put to fantasy land in the crib for hours at a time, fooling with the synthesizer for hours. But when you’re making dinner you have to make something that’s digestible to all people.”

After Doug and Jean Carn split up around 1974, he recorded sporadically under his own name or, after his conversion, as Abdul Rahim Ibrahim (on the lively album Al Rahmani! Cry Of The Floridian Tropic Son in 1977). He also served as a sideman for leaders ranging from trumpeter Wallace Roney to provocative filmmaker/composer Melvin Van Peebles. Carn connects this versatility to his high school band days in St. Augustine.

“On Saturday afternoons, I would go to the band room, would lay every instrument on the floor and go down the line until I could play all the major and minor scales in each one of them, then I was satisfied,” Carn said. “Musically speaking, you don’t have to come from a big town, you just have to know music.”

That knowledge extended beyond performing, as Carn ran the Adagio Jazz Club in Savannah, Georgia, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Musicians trusted him because their shared artistic understandings were unlike most other venue owners. But entrepreneurship did not keep him away from stages. About 10 years ago, he started touring with Jean Carn again at their daughter’s urging.

“I didn’t want to be the Grinch to spoil Christmas,” Carn said “The next thing, me and Jean were talking on the phone and it was like none of the bad stuff ever happened and we started playing gigs.”

Meanwhile, younger groups of musicians representing different backgrounds embraced him. These included multi-instrumentalists/producers Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Younge and Muhammad collaborated with Carn for the fifth volume of their Jazz Is Dead album series (, which was released last December. While their spacious funk blends with Carn’s organ sound, Muhammad connected the cultural awareness expressed on those Black jazz albums with his work in the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest in the early ’90s.

“Doug felt very comfortable and had an appreciation for what we wanted to do and get out of him,” Muhammad said. “He didn’t come in with any walls. He’s a witty, sparring kind of person so all of that is inside of the music.”

Even though COVID-19 halted his touring, Carn remains active. This year he composed an album currently titled Pandemic Blues and is looking for an opportunity to record and release it.

“My plan is, you better get out of the way, because I’m tired of holding back,” Carn said. “I’m going to tell things I haven’t told, say things I haven’t said. But mostly play things that I haven’t played.” DB

  • David_Sanborn_by_C_Andrew_Hovan.jpg

    Sanborn’s highly stylized playing and searing signature sound — frequently ornamented with thrill-inducing split-tones and bluesy bent notes — influenced generations of jazz and blues saxophonists.

  • Century_Room_by_Travis_Jensen.jpg

    ​The Century Room in downtown Tucson, Arizona, was born in 2021.

  • MichaelCuscuna_Katz_2042_6a_1995_copy.jpg

    Cuscuna played a singular role in the world of jazz as a producer of new jazz, R&B and rock recordings; as co-founder of a leading reissue record label; as a historian, journalist and DJ; and as the man who singlehandedly kept the Blue Note label on life support.

  • Keith_Jarrett_Jan_Garbarek_copy.jpg

    Two ECM reissues of historic albums by saxophonist Jan Garbarek, shown here with pianist Keith Jarrett, celebrate his 50 years on the label.

  • DonWas_A1100547_byMyriamSantos_copy.jpg

    “Being president of Blue Note has been one of the coolest things that ever happened to me,” Was said. “It’s a gas to serve as one of the caretakers of that legacy.”

On Sale Now
July 2024
90th Anniversary Double Issue!
Look Inside
Print | Digital | iPad