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Jimmy McGriff was probably the best Hammond B3 organ player to ever play the instrument. I know there have been some very talented people who played the B3, some of whom are still alive and kicking… errr… playing today. But in my humble opinion, none of them comes close to McGriff for his ability to manipulate that big hunk of wood and electronics and squeeze beautiful music out of it.

McGriff-Blue To The Bone-frontSo far I have written about two albums that involved McGriff. The very first of these little weekly exercises, on August 13, 2011, discussed McGriff’s album “The Dream Team” from 1996. And JFASN #64, on January 12 of this year, featured his 2001 release, “The Best Of Hank Crawford & Jimmy McGriff.”

Today we’re going to step back in time a little, to an album that was recorded almost exactly 25 years ago, on July 19 and 20, 1988. I’m speaking of the wonderful album, “Blue To The Bone.”

The personnel for this one are:

Jimmy McGriff, Hammond B3 organ

Al Grey, trombone

Bill Easley, alto and tenor sax

Melvin Sparks, guitar

Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, drums

“Blue To The Bone” gives us eight songs and runs about 44 and a half minutes. That’s pretty short by today’s standards, with most artists cramming every last minute of music onto their discs. “Blue To The Bone” was recorded when vinyl was still king, however, and the result is a disc that suffers by comparison to more recent releases. That, however, is the only fault you will find with this album. The music it top-notch, presented by a stable of “A-List” sidemen who can’t be beat.

The first song up is “Ain’t That Funky For You,” written by trombonist Al Grey. I love this song so much that I played it on the air a handful of times during my eight and a half years hosting “Saturday Night Jazz” on KMHD, the last time being June 12, 2010, just a few weeks before “Saturday Night Jazz” ended its run.

“Ain’t That Funky For You” opens, appropriately enough, with a funky riff involving pretty much the whole group. Easley and Grey take the lead for a bit, then step back for McGriff, who then mellows out and let’s Sparks fly, so to speak. Heh. Okay, sorry, I never can resist a good (or bad!) pun. 😉 Grey was a damn fine trombone player, an underrated genius, and it’s only natural that when he gets his extended solo his abilities should shine bright on a song her wrote. That is exactly what happens.

You can listen to “Ain’t That Funky For You” right here:

Next we have a pleasant ballad called “For All We Know,” from J. Fred Coots and Sam M. Lewis. Not to be confused with the 1970 song of the same name written for the movie “Lovers And Other Strangers,” this “For All We Know” was written in 1934 and has been covered literally dozens of times. The version we hear features McGriff and Purdie in a nice, quiet little duet.

“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” has got to be one of the most popular jazz songs of all time. It was written by Duke Ellington and Bob Russell around 1940 and originally was titled “Never No Lament.” It was renamed in 1942 and the rest, as they say, is history. The song has been covered by artists as varied as Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney, and B.B. King. The version we have here is as happy-go-lucky as any version I’ve heard. The title leads the uninformed to expect a melancholy ballad, but of course the reality is just the opposite. Great song, great performance. You’re going to love it!

“Secret Love” was written in 1953 by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster for the movie “Calamity Jane” starring Doris Day. It was first performed by Day, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. I don’t believe I’ve heard Day’s version, but frankly, I like the one McGriff and company give us here just fine. It’s another lively, happy-go-lucky song that will pick up your spirits and help you forget your problems, for a while anyway. Grey and Easley dominate this one, and the effect is marvelous. With a running time of almost ten and a half minutes, “Secret Love” is by far the longest song on the album, and the guys take full advantage of every minute.

“Hangin’ In,” from McGriff and guitarist Sparks, is a quiet little ballad. McGriff mostly provides quite background fill at first, while Sparks slowly picks his way through the melody. Then they do a bit of role reversal and the mighty B3 roars. I think I hear Easley’s sax every once in a while, but whoever it is is so overpowered by the Hammond that it could well be Grey on trombone. Then we return to Sparks and McGriff to the finale.

Speaking of finale, the last song we have here is “After The Dark,” from Reggie Marks. This great song swings high, blues or not. The two horn players open, followed by McGriff for a bit before Grey takes over, followed by Easley. Everyone soon joins in and it’s a wild ride to the end.

We lost Jimmy McGriff in 2008, Al Grey in 2000, and Sparks in 2011. Two of the crew are still around, as far as I can tell: Bill Easley and Bernard Purdie. This album is a great work by a crew of consummate professionals that will never be equaled.

You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you? I am absolutely, positively, 100% sure that you fill find “Blue To The Bone” from Jimmy McGriff to be a wonderful addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!

You can learn more about Jimmy McGriff and his music by going to his official website: http://www.jimmymcgriff.com/

There is also an extensive biography of McGriff here: http://www.dougpayne.com/jm_bio.htm

Thanks for reading this.

Al Evans

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