In Memoriam Jimmy Smith
1 Jimmy’s Rap (intro)
2 Root Down (live)
3 Funky Broadway
4 Ape Woman
5 Burning Spear
6 What’d I Say?
7 Back At The Chicken Shack
8 Prayer Meeting
9 Little Girl Blue
10 One Mint Julez
11 You Came A Long Way From St. Louis
12 Groove Drops
13 Small's Paradise Announcer (outro)
For those of you who have downloaded my Harlem Soul Food Mix several months ago it will not come as a surprise I’m a lover of that souljazz ghetto electric organ sound that once rocked and grinded fifties and sixties jazz clubs like Small Paradise in New York City. James Oscar ‘Jimmy’ Smith died this month and I want to pay respect here to the man that introduced the electric Hammond organ and turned it into a soul machine. I learned to enjoy Jimmy Smith as a Jackie Mittoo fan: when I found out Mittoo was heavily influenced by Smith I started collecting his records and slowly I was dragged into his sound. Later I found out Jimmy Smith was considered an early founder of acid jazz and nu jazz, but that was not the way I got to know the man. The mix kicks off with Root Down, popularized by the Beastie Boys who were big fans of Jimmy Smith. I continue with some funk tracks recorded at Verve (from 1962), then dive into some of his classic Blue Note recordings (1957-1962) and finish in a kind of sixties big band and lounge style. Hope you’ll enjoy the mix. Anyway, Jimmy Smith passed away this February - may he rest in peace. Below you can find an obituary, published in The Guardian.
In memoriam James Oscar “Jimmy” Smith
by John FordhamFriday February 11, 2005published in The Guardian Jimmy Smith, the Philadelphia-born Hammond organ pioneer, who has died aged 76, generally approached his performances like a man who was certain he was in show business, rather than art. Smith's gigs regularly involved plenty of stagy gesticulation, badinage with audiences, and mopping his brow with towels. The music was mostly rooted in that most accessible 20th-century formula, the twelve-bar blues.
But the art was never far below the surface. Smith refined and modernised a musical instrument better designed for travelling preachers, magic shows or the end of the pier. He brought a sophisticated and high-powered pianist's technique to it, and in coupling the Hammond's holy-rolling aptitudes to bebop, helped open up modern jazz to audiences otherwise impatient with its intricacies.
With full-on performances such as 1962's Walk On The Wild Side (pitting his careering keyboard playing against a smoky Oliver Nelson big-band score) and The Sermon, Smith became one of the biggest stars on Norman Granz's Verve label in the early 60s, a hero of the earthy jazz school known as hard bop, and a model for all aspiring Hammond players.
He was born James Oscar Smith in Norristown, Pennsylvania. His parents taught him piano, and he won a radio talent contest in Philadelphia, playing boogie-woogie, when he was nine.
At 17, Smith was appearing with his entertainer father in a local song-and-dance act, but on his discharge from the US navy in 1947, he began a period of formal music studies in both piano and double-bass - though, on his own admission, the schooling did little to improve his sight-reading skills.
Smith made a living playing piano in R&B bands around Philadelphia, and worked regularly with local bandleader Don Gardner - but it was in 1953, after hearing the Chicago-based swing organist Wild Bill Davis, that he switched. Davis had exploited the Hammond's colourful textures (enhanced by the exaggerated tremolo of the rotating Leslie loudspeaker) and sustained chord effects as an ensemble stimulant to other soloists, and he loosened the static qualities of earlier Hammond experimenters with a more flexible, advanced-swing approach to rhythm. It was Davis who also developed the format of the classic Hammond organ trio in 1951 - organ, guitar and drums, using the pedals to create a bass line.
Smith briefly formed an early organ trio with a local saxophonist, John Coltrane, in 1955, the year in which the Hammond company introduced its most advanced model, the B3.
Expanding on the methods of Davis and Milt Buckner, Smith boldly combined church organ sounds, Davis's and Buckner's R&B leanings and the fast linear phrasing of bebop. He created arresting combinations of the Hammond's thunderously sustained lower register and the dramatic effects of its revolutionary "percussion stop", a device that banished an organ's smudgy sound.
He also evolved an astonishing foot-pedalling technique enabling him to sustain a propulsive even-fours bass walk.
Smith thus invented himself as a one-man bop soloist and rhythm section combined. The jazz world woke up to the fact when he left Pennsylvania to play at Smalls Paradise on New York's 7th Avenue (where he was heard in January 1956 by Blue Note Records' Francis Wolff), and then at the city's Cafe Bohemia and the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, opportunities that ignited his career.
Through Smith's example, and Wolff's support for both him and the instrument, the Hammond increased in popularity. Smith was the standard-bearer, often heard in animated conversation with cooler but very effective foils in guitarists Kenny Burrell and Grant Green. He toured the world unpacking a formulaic repertoire of favourite phrases, tumultuous gospel-choir sounds, roaring chordwork and ecstatic trills. His shows fizzed with a visceral excitement.
In 1962 Smith also moved from Blue Note Records (for whom he had recorded some of his finest moments, including Groovin' At Smalls Paradise, and Open House) to Verve, making bigger-budget and more commercial orchestral albums including The Cat, Got My Mojo Workin', and an ill-judged classical/jazz hybrid in Prokofiev's Peter And The Wolf.
With his wife, Lola, he opened Jimmy Smith's Jazz Supper Club in Los Angeles in the 1970s, but went back on the road in the next decade, recording a comeback album with Eddie Harris on tenor sax at San Francisco's Keystone Korner in 1981. Signed to Quincy Jones's Quest label for five largely unproductive years, Smith moved to Nashville.
He made a triumphant appearance at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 1989 with old partners, including Stanley Turrentine and Burrell, and returned to popular favour in the 1990s with the advent of a worldwide jazz revival.
After another stretch at Blue Note, Smith returned to Verve in 1995, playing a more mixed repertoire of bop, funk and ballads with young musicians, and he went on the road with a trio that often included saxophonist Herman Riley, and sometimes Burrell.
On tour well into his later years, Smith often sounded like a weary man between tunes, but remarkably like his old self in full cry at the keyboard. He recorded Dot Com Blues for Universal in 2000, with illustrious blues guests including BB King, Etta James, Keb' Mo', Taj Mahal, Phil Upchurch and Dr John. He also began incorporating less blues and soul-oriented material into his repertoire, including a Duke Ellington medley.
But the irrepressible veteran would soon explode the mood with his trademark zigzagging runs and wild, wailing chords. Smith had been working regularly in recent months and was preparing for a national tour with fellow organist Joey De Francesco to promote their Concord Records release, Legacy, to be released next week.
Jimmy Smith really had one song - the churning, exhilarating, backbeat-cracking, riff-shouting organ blues. But he didn't need another, and his glowing audiences didn't expect another.
His wife predeceased him. He is survived by two daughters, a son and a stepson. · James Oscar Smith, born December 8, 1928; died February 8, 2005