Jimmy Smith

1928-2005

At the moment of this writing, it's the night before Valentine's Day, so it's as good a time as any to talk about something I love: the music of Jimmy Smith, the master of the Hammond B3 electronic organ.

The Hammond organ predated Jimmy Smith's emergence, but he put the instrument on the map and made it come alive, creating a style—a harmonic convergence of blues, gospel and jazz—which inspired many other great players: Groove Holmes, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Lonnie Smith and John Patton, just to name the more well-known ones.

I got to see him four times over the years, three times at the Catalina Bar & Grill and once at the Hollywood Bowl with Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Burrell and Harvey Mason on drums. Grady Tate was supposed to play drums on that date, but unfortunately, he canceled for some reason—it was supposed to be the classic quartet that night. Mason's a great player, but his style was too technical for this setting—he didn't have that bluesy swing Tate excelled at, which always complimented Smith's playing. Kenny Burrell was great, though. So was Stanley Turrentine—and unfortunately, it turned out to be one of his last (if not the last) appearances. He died a week or two later.

When the club I help run, the Good Foot, had its live band the Sonic Prophets going, they got hooked up with a show at the House of Blues in Hollywood opening for Smith (I guess that makes the number of times I saw him five!). Anyhow, Smith rocked the house every time, even when he was grumbling, complaining, or cursing something or someone out—which was every time I saw him. A grouchy old bastard, but DAMN! He was the friggin' James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker of his instrument! Second to none! He expressed so many different shades of emotion in his playing, almost communicating things his legendarily large ego wouldn't allow him to otherwise.

If you haven't already heard it yet, I recommend his album Organ Grinder Swing on Verve. It's from 1965, and its Smith playing in a trio with Grady Tate and Kenny Burrell. This was my introduction to Jimmy Smith when I was in junior high school. His playing on this album definitely merits the Coltrane and Parker comparisons. Mind-blowingly skillful, completely seamless flow, and lots and lots of that sublime essence usually referred to as "soul." Totally hot and heavy! It blew me away then and still—I put this record on upon news of his death, and it gave me the shivers, even after countless listens! It has always been one of my favorite albums of any genre. I rarely see any articles on him mention this album, which is crazy! Plus, he played the title song every time I saw him.

But you still can't go wrong with classic discs such as The Sermon, Back at the Chicken Shack and Midnite Special or even such lesser-known discs as Rockin' the Boat and Bluesmith. Even his more "pop" releases—such as I Got My Mojo Workin', Any Number Can Win and Monster (a collection of covers of popular movie and TV themes)—are a total party because no matter what the setting, he always sounded like a million bucks.

Yeah, I loved the guy's music. I never met him, but his music definitely spoke volumes to me. Thanks for the memories, Jimmy. Your mojo will work wonders for years to come.

 
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