Jimmy Smith (musician)

Jimmy Smith [ dʒɪmi smɪθ ] (actually James Oscar Smith) ( born December 8, 1928 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, † February 8, 2005 in Phoenix, Arizona ) was an American jazz organist.

Smith is considered the greatest innovator of organ playing in modern jazz. The use of B -3 Hammond organ, he revolutionized in a way that justifies a division of the history of the organ in jazz in a period before Jimmy Smith and a period with and for him. He made the Hammond sound popular worldwide and is a model for many later organist and keyboard player. His trio concept with the occupation of organ, electric guitar and drums (no bass) has been widely copied and introduced in the 50s and 60s to a flood of combos with the same cast, which were very popular at this time. The organ trio is now considered classic.

Life and work

Smith studied in his native city after the military service in 1948 double bass at the Hamilton School and 1949/50, piano at the Horenstein School of Music. He then worked in local bands and in 1951 Bobby Edwards, Herb Scott, Johnny Sparrow and Don Gardner as R & B pianist. It was not until around 1954 he turned, after hearing Wild Bill Davis, the organ. He initially retired for a year in a warehouse and tested for new sounds and playing techniques on the instrument, which was then considered a " poor man's organ " and was used almost exclusively in churches. After being well received in Philadelphia so that he gave his only appearance in the Café Bohemia in New York City. The first recordings as a leader he made in 1956 on the Blue Note label. His first LP was the telling title A New Sound, A New Star: Jimmy Smith At The Organ. According to legend, the record producer and owner of Blue Note Alfred Lion of Jimmy Smith's music was so excited that he said he would hang his career on the nail. Instead, he wanted to do in the future to travel around with the organist to tour, to hear him play every night. He carried out his threat, however, not true. From 1956 to 1961 Jimmy Smith played a material for more than 30 LPs on Blue Note. The highlight of his recording career are the LPs Back At The Chicken Shack and Midnight Special from 1960. In 1962, Jimmy Smith moved to Verve, where he recorded numerous commercially very successful plates, including some with big band accompaniment ( including many with Oliver Nelson and several others such as Billy Byers, Claus Ogerman, Lalo Schifrin and Tom McIntosh ).

With its strongly influenced by blues and gospel funky style of play, he is considered an important representative of the hard bop and soul jazz. He took in his more than 50 -year career on more than 150 plates. With hits like Got My Mojo Workin or Walk on the Wild Side Jimmy Smith had extraordinary success also with the general public for a jazz musician. Among his musical partners were among other tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, guitarists Kenny Burrell and Grant Green and arrangers Oliver Nelson and Lalo Schifrin. The drummer Donald Bailey and Grady Tate should be listed here necessarily. He has also recorded with Wes Montgomery ( Jimmy & Wes - The Dynamic Duo; Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes, 1966). When at the beginning of the 1970s, the synthesizer Hammond repressed, he moved back to Los Angeles, where he led a Supper Club and published sporadically new albums. Only when the acid jazz organ experienced a new boom, he returned in the 1990s back to the international stages.


Smith used three fundamentally different ways of playing, which he used depending on the nature of his songs. For fast tunes he put the bass line in the left hand and put the pedals of the organ only for generating short accents on the quarter notes or for marking emphasis, of course, a bass. With the improvisation of the right hand, he sat melody lines, however, which derived their power from the contrast of long sustained tones and sun breakneck drive. The chords of the middle voices were worn mainly by guitarist at such pieces. In slower pieces, the bass line was completely on the pedal, so that the left hand was free to play short, percussive accents with just a few notes. A confusing at first glance, individual style related Smith in very slow ballads (Laura ): as polyphonic chords would sound queasy in the position of the left hand, Smith moved these chords in the right hand and led the melody with his left. Other jazz organists achieve the same effect by crossing the hands.

Prizes and awards

Jimmy Smith was subscribed for years on the poll- winning jazz magazine Down Beat in the category organ, which had first introduced in 1964 specifically for him the magazine. In 2005 he received the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.


Jimmy Smith lives mainly through his song " Root Down ( And Get It )" in the younger generation. The Beastie Boys, a New York hip- hop band, attacked Root Down again in 1994, and released their version on the album Ill Communication. These newly launched version of " Root Down " won cult status soon, she was but not least also peppered with original samples from Jimmy Smith's piece. The video for " Root Down " shows, inter alia, also the record covers of Jimmy Smith's " Root Down ( And Get It ) ", while Beastie Boy MCA the line " Jimmy Smith is my man, I wanna give him a pound " raps.

Discography (selection)

  • A Date With Jimmy Smith ( 1957)
  • The Sermon (1957 /58)
  • Softly as a Summer Breeze (1958 )
  • Cool Blues (1958 )
  • Home Cookin ' (1959 )
  • Crazy! Baby ( 1960)
  • Prayer Meetin ' (1960 )
  • Midnight Special (1960 )
  • Bashin ': The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith ( 1962)
  • The Cat (1964 )
  • Organ Grinder Swing ( 1965)
  • Got My Mojo Workin ' (1965 )
  • Peter and the Wolf (1966 )
  • Stay Loose (1968 )
  • Jimmy Smith and the Trio - Pleyel, November 20th (1968 )
  • Jimmy Smith and the Trio - Pleyel, Dec. 1st (1969)
  • Root Down (1972 )
  • Blue Smith ( 1972)
  • Off The Top ( 1982)
  • Fourmost (1990 ) live from the Fat Tuesday's
  • Fourmost Return ( 1990)
  • The Master (1993 )
  • Damn! (1995)
  • Dot Com Blues ( 2001)
  • Legacy ( 2005)


  • The Complete February 1957 Jimmy Smith Blue Note Sessions - ( Mosaic 1994) - 5 LPs, 3 CDs with Donald Byrd, Lou Donaldson, Hank Mobley, Eddie McFadden g, Art Blakey, Donald Bailey

As guest musician (selection)

  • Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby - The Original Jam Sessions 1969 ( Concord ) 2004
  • Frank Sinatra - L.A. Is My Lady ( Warner ) 1984
  • Michael Jackson - Bad ( Hammond B3 Midi organ solo in "Bad" ) ( Epic / Sony) 1987

Jazz musician in the tradition of Smith