February 9, 2005


Jazz organ pioneer Jimmy Smith dies at 79 (ARTHUR SPIEGELMAN, 2/09/05, Reuters News Service)

Organist Jimmy Smith, who helped change the sound of jazz by almost single-handedly introducing the electric riffs of the Hammond B-3 organ, has died at age 79 at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., his record label said Wednesday. [...]

Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 8, 1925, Smith ruled the Hammond B-3 in the 1950s and 1960s and blended jazz, blues, R&B, bebop and even gospel into an exciting stew that came to known as "soul jazz" -- an idiom that produced imitators, followers and fans. [...]

Paired with jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery in the 1960s, Smith first made his mark as a soloist on Blue Note Records where, as one critic noted, he turned the Hammond B-3 organ "into a down and dirty orchestra."

Among his best known albums on Blue Note were The Sermon!, Back at the Chicken Shack and Midnight Special.

Critic Gene Seymour writing in the Oxford Companion to Jazz, said, "Though he was not the first player to bring the electric organ to jazz, Smith gave the instrument the expressive power that Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker gave their respective saxophones."

The pipe organ had been used in jazz in the 1930s by such famous players as Fats Waller but it was obviously too big and too heavy to be lugged into jazz clubs. Smith was able to take his electric B-3 on the road and created a jazz trio of organ, drums and either guitar or saxophone.

Nothing better than Jazz and/or Soul on a Hammond B-3 and no one was ever better than Jimmy Smith.

-Jimmy Smith (BBC 100 Jazz Profiles)
Jimmy Smith, 76; Broke New Ground in Jazz With the Hammond Organ (Jon Thurber, February 10, 2005, LA Times)

Jimmy Smith, the reigning "Emperor of the Hammond Organ" who was widely credited with turning it from a novelty instrument in jazz to a legitimate option for keyboard players, has died. He was 76.

Smith was found dead at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Tuesday afternoon by his business manager, Robert Clayton. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Smith had been working regularly in recent months and was preparing for a national tour with friend and fellow organist Joey DeFrancesco, to promote their Concord release, "Legacy," due out next week. Smith's last club appearance in Los Angeles, a date that included DeFrancesco, was in December at Catalina Bar & Grill.

Dryfoos comment: Jimmy was the undisputed king of the jazz organ...His playing went beyond the funky/bluesy "organ and tenor" combos that were popular from the 50's through the 70's; he was much more harmonically and rhythmically advanced than other organists (without ever losing the instruments inherent funky/bluesy qualities) and blended great with the bebop and hard bop players that he was matched with over the years. His 1960's recordings on Blue Note are must haves, and I would recommend 2 as starting points, "The Sermon" and "House Party." They are sold as a combo on Amazon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 9, 2005 9:52 PM

Who's afraid of Virginia Woolfe

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 9, 2005 10:37 PM

Jimmy Smith! Oh God bless you, man . . . Beloved and man did you smoke! Home Cookin' baby! Rest in peace.

I SAW HIM at the Blue Note in DC, around '86, and HE ROCKED THE HOUSE!!!!!! I watched his legs all night long, walking bass on the pedals. It looked like he was dancing the fox trot.

Orrin, if you love the Hammond B3, please do check out Jimmy's cousin Lary Young: "UNITY" (Blue Note) . . . Oh. My. God. As well, Larry Young, "Testifying"

Thanks -

Posted by: george in Taipei at February 10, 2005 3:05 AM

Jimmy Smith was so in love with the Hammond B3 organ that he got a job selling them to earn enough money to buy one. Then he locked himself away for an entire year experimenting. When he emerged, he had that "Jimmy Smith" sound and the rest is history.

Not many left of the old guard, but thank goodness for Rudy Van Gelder reissues.

Posted by: Randall Voth at February 10, 2005 4:10 AM

There's a story about a jazz festival from around a decade ago, at which a large number of organists were to perform, one after another. Dr. Lonnie Smith (called "The Turbanator" from the hat he always wears; one of the true greats) is backstage, rehearsing with a big band of students he has trained. As the rehearsal goes on, Lonnie is greeted by Jimmy Smith, who is set appear after Lonnie.

"Ready to go on, Lonnie?", the other Smith inquires. Lonnie says he's ready.

"And you brought your orchestra with you?" Jimmy continues. Lonnie nods and tries to get on with the rehearsal.

"Well," Jimmy raises his voice while holding up his ten fingers, "I got MY orchestra RIGHT HERE!"

Jimmy Smith was one of the very best, equally at home with funky small groups or massive ensembles arranged by Oliver Nelson. Nobody could do that gorgeous slow burn, where the simplest riffs lead to explosive solos, quite the way he could. Pretty much every jazz organist owes part of his style to Jimmy, and while the instrument has made something of a comeback lately, most of the titans are gone. (I think we lost Jack McDuff AND Charles Earland in the same year!) Listen to some Jimmy Smith tonight ("The Sermon" is always a good choice) and remember who put the soul in soul-jazz.

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at February 10, 2005 8:58 AM