Jimmy Smith

Gift guide

Jazz Sides

Jimmy Smith

Retrospective (Blue Note)

There were jazz organists before Jimmy Smith – Fats Waller, Count Basie, Bill Doggett, Wild Bill Davis – but none made the impact Smith did during the Fifties and early-Sixties when he popularized the heretofore seldom heard instrument. Smith had been a pianist, but became fascinated with the Hammond B-3 organ. He literally locked himself in a warehouse with the instrument until he learned how to extract a whole new vocabulary of sounds from it, the widest variety of which can be heard on "The Duel," an almost psychedelic track he cut in 1957 with drummer Art Blakey. I personally would've liked to hear him go further in this direction, but his audience included many R&B as well as jazz fans, and he ultimately catered to them, loading his repertoire with blues and other funky material. This 4-CD set, cut mainly from 1956 to 1963 (there's one track from '86), gives us a good, representative look at what Smith was doing in his early years. Nine of the first 10 tracks on the first CD are by a guitar-organ-drums trio. Smith dominates with his aggressive presence. In addition to his other attributes, he was a brilliant technician, influenced strongly by bop piano great Bud Powell. Smith never abandoned the trio format, but also recorded a number of spirited jam sessions with fine post-bop musicians, including altoist Lou Donaldson, tenorman Tina Brooks, and trumpeters Lee Morgan and Blue Mitchell. Smith can also be heard playing with tenor saxist Stanley Turrentine, who was to become one of the most popular jazzmen of all time. Turrentine and Smith didn't set out to challenge listeners with their collaboration – they did a lot of basic stuff. Nevertheless, note how logically Turrentine resolves his ideas; some of his improvised solos are songs in themselves.

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