I Love A Good Organ

The title of this piece grabbed you, huh? Before you go and call the FCC or whoever controls that kind of stuff, I just want you to know I am talking about the musical kind of organ, specifically the Hammond B-3. Though I really dig the distinctive Hammond sound no matter who is playing, my favorite organist is Jimmy Smith.

Like most of the classic organists, Smith started his musical career by playing piano before moving to the Hammond, studying the piano at several prestigious music schools. Once Smith heard the organ, however, it was love at first listen (I would think he probably heard some great Fats Waller organ stuff) and he rarely deviated from the organ from 1951 or so onward.

In a mere five years, Smith had begun making classic albums for Blue Note – 1960’s Back at the Chicken Shack and The Sermon, released in 1958, being just two of them. Then, after leaving Blue Note in 1963 and jumping to Verve, he made yet another round of classic albums between 1963-1972. What made his records special was Smith’s fusion of his influences. And, no, I am not talking about jazz fusion – which I absolutely detest. I am talking about Smith’s fusion of gospel music and blues into a brand of music you can’t help but smile and tap your feet along with while listening.

While the two albums above are great examples of what Jimmy Smith does when he is at his best, you can pick up any album he made between 1958 and 1974 and be completely awed by the quality of the music. Disco and the wane of funk-jazz did him in for much of the ’70’s and ’80’s, but Smith always toured and re-gained a lot of his success when Europeans stumbled across acid-jazz in the late ’80’s. Before his death last year, Smith had rightfully become a legend and put out a string of great CDs in the ’90’s reminding us age has nothing to do with the decline of creativity. Take that, Paul McCartney!

You can always tell a Jimmy Smith record from the masterful bass-lines and chordal accompaniment – not to mention the thrilling solos – which just about alter your body, turning it into nothing more than an adjunct of Smith’s organ. How else can you explain the reason I have to start dancing, jitterbugging, and jiving whenever I listen to Smith’s music? And that just happens when I listen to his ballads! The uptempo stuff makes me move around like I’m on crack!

There are other great orgainists as well: Jimmy McGriff, Big John Patton, Larry Young, Joey DeFrancesco – and the list goes on – but all pay tribute to Smith whenever they turn their organs on.

If you are a jazz or funk fan and want to hear some of the best music of your life, please check out Jimmy Smith if you haven’t already done so. All the classics are out there, most still in print, and really anything you pick up with Smith’s name on it is going to be great.

Do you love your organ?

The Music Nerd knows…….