Jimmy Smith was one of the top jazz organists of all time. He was a prolific recording artist and toured frequently. This maestro of the Hammond B3 organ was born on December 8, 1926 in Norristown, Pennsylvania and died on February 8, 2005 in Scottsdale, Arizona, having only just moved there the previous year.
His first interest was piano, until he came across the recordings of early organist, Wild Bill Davis. Smith bought his own B3 organ when he was 28, and spent the next year teaching himself how to play it.
Eventually his first band moved from Philly to New York City where they played dates at the legendary club Smalls Paradise, among others. Soon they came to the attention of Blue Note Records head Alfred Lion, who signed him to a recording contract on the spot. Smith’s albums were successfully from the start, and he never looked back.
Over the years Smith performed with the likes of Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Jackie McLean, Blue Mitchell, Hank Mobley, and many others. Such was his fame that he was even asked to appear on an album released by the decidedly non-jazz artist, Michael Jackson (“Bad”).
During his long career, Smith recorded a breathtaking number of albums. The disk I want to tell you about now is from early in his career, recorded live at the aforementioned Small’s Paradise on April 7, 1958. The album is called “Cool Blues.”
The personnel for this hard bop outing were as follows:
Jimmy Smith, Hammond B3 organ
Lou Donaldson, alto sax (tracks 1-6)
Tina Brooks, tenor sax (tracks 1-4)
Eddie McFadden, guitar
Art Blakey, drums (tracks 1-3)
Donald Bailey, drums (tracks 4-8)
My copy of “Cool Blues” is the Rudy Van Gelder remaster and contains seven music tracks. (Track 3 is singer Babs Gonzales, the evening’s emcee, introducing the band.) The original CD release in 1980 contained only tracks 1, 2, 4 and 5. According to the liner notes for the RVG remaster, the original also contained pitch errors which were corrected for this version.
The first song we hear is the Russian traditional, “Dark Eyes.” This arrangement, all eleven minutes and forty-four seconds of it, is a lively, captivating tour de force of bop. The focus falls mainly on Smith and Blakey, of course, but the under-appreciated Brooks does a wonderful job here also. He and Donaldson both open the song and take it out, and do so with great gusto that the audience is not bashful about showing their appreciation for.
Up next is a great song that Babs Gonzales wrote called “Groovin’ At Smalls.” Once again the saxes open, accompanied by Blakey, while Smith provides a bass-level backing. About three minutes in McFadden steps forward and gives so some great fret work. Lou Donaldson takes it from him and is in turn overtaken by Smith himself, finally taking lead. This is a great song, obviously, because no songwriter worth their salt would write a crappy song named after a major club like Small’s, unless they never intended to appear there again.
Here are Jimmy and the guys performing “Groovin’ At Small’s”:
Then we have Babs introducing the band members and the next song, whose name he creatively changes to “An Insane Night In Small’s Paradise,” more commonly known by the name “A Night In Tunisia.”
This is of course on of the great standards of the jazz world and it is no surprise that this group does a knockout job with it. And that is a good thing because the guys carry on with this one for no less than seventeen minutes.
The title track, Charlie Parker’s “Cool Blues,” follows. This is another lively standard. The guys do a great job on this one, as you can hear for yourself in the clip below.
One point I would make before you play this. The person who uploaded it to YouTube has taken track 3, Babs Gonzales’ introductions, and tacked it onto the front of “Cool Blues.” I’m not sure why they felt the need to do that, but whatever. The music is still great. J
The last song I’m going to tell you about is “Small’s Minor,” the only Smith composition on the album. The two horns sit this one out, and it opens with everyone backing McFadden and his guitar until Smith takes over about two minutes in.
Here is the gang performing “Small’s Minor”:
I’m sure you know what I’m going to say next: “Cool Blues” by the master of the Hammond B3 organ, Jimmy Smith, will make an outstanding addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night. J
If you would like to learn more about Jimmy Smith and his music, Mark Deming has a nice bio of Smith on the allmusic.com web site. Allaboutjazz.com has an extensive bio of smith from Mark Sabbatini, a global vagabond and American-born resident of Norway. Smith’s obituary in the Washington Post includes a nice bio of him, as does the Verve Music Group web site.
Don’t forget: April is Jazz Appreciation Month! J
Until next time, thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon USA
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