Music News

Jimmy Smith

A veteran from the glory days of Blue Note Records, Jimmy Smith's symphonic organ compositions have held a distinctly original space in jazz for a half-century. Smith helped shape modern jazz by copping solos from horn players and translating them on his Hammond B-3. Some keyboard players abandoned the old Hammond B-3 when technologically advanced systems arrived, but Smith has stayed true to his roots.

Early albums such as Back at the Chicken Shack showcase Smith's inventive soul-jazz style. Smith's organ skills resemble those of a company of musicians. Chunky bass lines, brassy solos and chordal progressions all boom from his singular instrument with the instrument's intrinsic funk, which adds some levity to the blues end of each track.

One of Smith's latest efforts, Dot Com Blues, takes a contemporary title, but is nonetheless quite attached to the old school. Dot Com is more of a Vegas circus act than it is a conventional Smith record -- it features the likes of B.B. King, Etta James and Dr. John. Smith's organ gets lost in the melee as each superstar fights for airtime, but in the end he does get heard and his playing anchors each song on the album.

Newer outfits such as Medeski, Martin & Wood have popularized the Hammond B-3 once again, but few seem to recognize Smith's stake in current organists' success. Jimmy Smith is truly a master, and to absorb his brand of the blues is to witness a classic stylist.

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Mike Cryer