Before our trip to the Phoenix area, a friend who knows we liked theatre organ music suggested we put a visit to Organ Stop Pizza on our list of things to do. Skeptical about what pizza and theatre organs could possibly have in common, we took our chance. The building is very large, cubic, and not particularly distinguishable. Once inside the lobby, your only view is of the ordering and pick-up counters. When we arrived, the organist was on break, so the massive dining room with many rows off picnic style tables and benches provided little additional assurance that we had made a good decision.
However, as soon as the music started, it all changed. The organ and the organist rose, rotating, from behind a five-foot circular wall at the front of the room. Behind him on the wall of the 43 foot tall room were multiple windows, behind which the various pipes blasted, tweeted and twittered. Various percussive instruments, accordions, vibes, bells, pianos, chimes, etc., lined the walls, ceiling, and balconies, all ready to be spotlighted and called to action at the pull of a stop or flip of the switch by the organ master. Colored lights, strobes and disco balls enhanced and accentuated the music. It was Grand!
According to the website, the Wurlitzer theatre organ was built for and installed in the Denver Theatre in 1927 and was used regularly until the early 1930s. Over the years since purchase and installation of the organ at its current location in the early to mid-197os, the organ has been restored and rebuilt several times. It has been expanded from its original three-manual console with 15 ranks/sets of pipes to a massive four-manual console with 82 ranks, 17 tuned percussions, innumerable traps and effects, a set of 32-foot wood diaphones, and nearly 6000 pipes!
Charlie Balogh was the organist and master of ceremonies for the evening. We stayed for two sets, consuming pretty darn good pizza and sipping some beer. Mr. Balogh, named the 2000 “Organist of the Year” by the American Theatre Organ Society, made a dramatic ascension from behind the wall at the helm of the organ with a John Williams’ Star Wars medley. Other magnificent pieces on his playlist included the Pink Panther theme, a medley from the Sound of Music, Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If You Ain’t Got That Swing”, Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, an Armed Services tribute, multiple happy birthday wishes, and believe it or not, his own special digitally-enhanced rendition of “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.”
Charlie Balogh reading birthday wishes and song requests submitted by the audience.
The Mighty Wurlitzer rotating to show off the tiers of keyboards and stops to the audience on all sides of the room.
Bellows behind the bottom windows; a row of drums, accordions, and more in front of a huge display off pipes just behind the mid-tier louvered windows; more pipes, chimes, vibes along the top tier of the room; and pianos in each balcony.