Just in time for the holidays, Blue Note Records has released a 4-CD set of some more of the label’s highly influential recordings, these of Retrospective
documenting the early work of jazz organ legend Jimmy Smith. Finally, the International Association of Jazz Educators will award Smith with the Jazz Masters Award at its annual convention in Long Beach, California in January, 2005. There can be no doubt that Smith belongs in the company of past winners, and the wonder is that Smith hasn’t received the recognition before. After all, just as Louis Armstrong, Red Norvo, Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Blanton, Toots Thielemans and Charlie Christian in their own ways helped to define the roles of their instruments in the jazz idiom, so did Jimmy Smith. Building upon the early organ work of Fats Waller, Count Basie and "Wild" Bill Davis, Smith, through innovation, experimentation and perseverance, developed on his own the Hammond B-3 organ sound that immediately influenced numerous piano players who switched to organ like Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott and Jimmy McGriff. And by the expansion of the Hammond B-3 organ sound through successive converts to the instrument, Smith’s ideas were adopted by a second generation of devotees to the organ like Joey DeFrancesco, Bill Heid and Larry Goldings. In addition, Smith developed the classic instrumentation of the jazz organ group to include organ, guitar and drums. When occasionally a saxophone is added to the organ trio, the sound owes its debt to the sound of Smith’s early recordings. Even as the B-3 organ enters the electronics age, with the introduction last year of the Hammond-Suzuki New B-3 model, which allows for tone shifting and easier-than-before portability, Smith remains the champ of jazz organ and a sound that he virtually invented.
Blue Note’s Retrospective
box set documents Smith’s classic recordings on the label by including selections chronologically, from his first 1956 album with guitarist Thornel Schwartz and drummer Bay Perry on A New Sound A New Star/Jimmy Smith At The Organ, Volume One
to his special performance at the relaunch of the Blue Note label in 1986. In between Retrospective
covers some of the most famous jazz recordings ones that musicians today still know note by note, such as "The Sermon," notable for the heavyweights who recorded it with Smith as well as for its memorability, or "Back At The Chicken Shack," on which Stanley Turrentine first recorded with Smith. One of the saxophonists who recorded frequently with Smith in the mid-fifties was Lou Donaldson, and inspired by the jazz organ sound, he went on to create his own version of it, the boogaloo, with Dr. Lonnie Smith, George Benson and Idris Muhammad.
Having become accustomed to some over-the-top jazz organ performances since the instrument’s introduction as the equal, and in some cases the better, of the piano, listening to Smith on these four CD’s recalls how disciplined he was in his recordings. Even though he had the B-3’s tremendous power at his command, Smith rarely if ever used volume extremes to blast an audience or to dramatize a performance. Instead, he contributed his own inventions such as the sustained note over several choruses or the machine-gunning of a single not, not to mention original timbres through experimentation with the drawbars. However, even when he took advantage of the organ’s unique possibilities, Smith kept it under control, emphasizing the organ’s ability to be as beboppish as the beboppers on "Yardbird Suite," as artistic and fascinating in reshaping a ballad as the horn players on "Body And Soul," and as soulful as a gospel singer on "Prayer Meetin’."
Even with 38 tracks to represent the work of Smith on his early Blue Note recordings, many more remain so much so that the size of the box set could have been doubled without covering all of Smith’s recordings, so prolific was he. But Retrospective
allows a re-examination of the year-by-year growth of Smith’s art when it took the jazz world by storm and a reappreciation of the importance of his talent in expanding the vocabulary and voicings of jazz.