Jazz Keyboardist and Band Leader
BMHOF Class of 1997
Joe "Groove" Madison was a legendary Buffalo jazz and blues organist. He was a throwback to Buffalo's rich and largely overlooked tradition in blues, soul and R&B.
According to critic Elmer Ploetz, in a 1994 Buffalo Magazine article, Madison was one of the musicians that nearly every black artist and a good many white has played with or learned from. Ploetz included him among artists such as Robert "Count Rabbit" Robinson, Matt Nickson, Johnny Soul, Jesse Butler, Barbara St. Clair and King George Alexander.
As a child in Niagara Falls, N.Y., he learned every instrument he put his hands on and played the piano at his grandfather's storefront church. His father was a musician and always had music playing and musicians over.
Madison said that his father "would sit me on his lap and show me a lot of piano."
He grew up during the golden age of jazz and rhythm and blues in the ‘40s and ‘50s when the local scene was hopping. As a teenager, he grew up to love bebop. But many of his first jobs were with bluesman like Elmo "Spoon" Witherspoon and Count Rabbit. He told Ploetz that "at one time, there were always places to lay. On William Street, all down the street was nothing but clubs, and all of them had bands, four pieces or three pieces. It was like every day of the weekend was a holiday."
It was his mastery of the difficult Hammond B-3 organ, with its distinctive thick bluesy tones that made his reputation. He picked up the knack at the Pine Grill and with it the nickname "Groove" from his being similar to organist Richard “Groove” Holmes, a star out of the Philadelphia area.
The organ was love at first sound for Joe, and he was one of the first area players able to handle the instrument. He played for ‘60s soul sax legend King Curtis, touring the nation and playing places like the Apollo Theatre and sitting in with James Brown.
Locally, one of his gigs was with Chic And The Diplomats, which featured some of the cream of Buffalo’s R&B players, including Denny Fox on drums. In their early days they played clubs like the Candy Cane Lounge alongside The Jesters.
Madison’s admirers were legion; Ronnie Foster (keyboard player with George Benson and Stevie Wonder) took lessons from him as a teenager. Grover Washington Jr. played with him as a teenager as well.
Papa John Defrancesco, another organ great, told writer Mikayla Gilbreath in the magazine All About Jazz, "I met Lonnie [Smith] in Buffalo... [Dr.] Lonnie Smith and I both probably learned how to play the organ from the same guy. You know... by pickin' his brains. A guy named Joe Madison... They used to call him Joe "Groove" Madison. He could really groove too, man. Wow!"
Through the 1980s and ‘90s, Madison made his living in venues ranging from the smoky confines of the Mirage, 3076 Bailey Ave., and Club 1218 on Jefferson Avenue to the sleek Calumet Arts Cafe downtown.
Madison was 58 years old at the time of his death on April 2, 1995, and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo.
You can hear a set of Joe Madison’s music here
Sources (click the link to get more information):
Uncrowned Community Builders
All About Jazz
Back - 1997