“Jimmy was one of the greatest and most innovative musicians of our time. I love the man and I love the music. He was my idol, my mentor and my friend,” fellow Hammond B-3 artist Joey Defrancesco said yesterday.
Jimmy Smith, the Hammond B-3 icon who creatively revolutionized the instrument in jazz, died of apparent natural causes yesterday, February 8, at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania on December 8, 1925, Jimmy Smith ruled the Hammond B-3 organ in the 1950s and 1960s. He turned the instrument into almost an ensemble itself, fusing R&B, blues, and gospel influences with bebop references into a jubilant, warm, compelling sound that many others emulated.
After service in the Navy, in 1948 he studied bass at the Hamilton School of Music and piano at Ornstein’s School of Music in Philadelphia. He began playing the Hammond organ in 1951, but didn’t find his sound right away.
He described the process and epiphany: “I got my organ from a loan shark had it shipped to the warehouse. I stayed in that warehouse, I would say, six months to a year. Nobody showed me anything, man, so I had to fiddle around with my stops.”
After various draw bar combinations, Jimmy finally discovered the sound that he wanted. “I pulled out that third harmonic and there! The bulb lit up, thunder and lightning! Stars came out of the sky!”
He soon earned a reputation that followed him to New York, where he debuted at the Café Bohemia. A date at Birdland and then a 1957 Newport Jazz Festival appearance launched Smith’s career. He toured extensively throughout the 1960s and ‘70s.
Smith’s Blue Note sessions from 1956 to 1963 were extremely influential and included collaborations with Kenny Burrell, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, Jackie McLean, Ike Quebec, and Stanley Turrentine. Smith also recorded for Verve from 1963 to 1972, many releases noteworthy for the use of big bands and arrangements by Oliver Nelson.
Jimmy Smith was the master, but the authentic sound of the Hammond lives on in his protégé and good buddy Joey DeFrancesco. The pair recently recorded a studio album together, Legacy, to be released on Concord Records February 15. A national tour was in place for the B-3 soul mates to commence at Yoshi’s February 16-20, along with a special Iridium engagement in New York, March 23-27.
See Wally Bangs’s passionate and informative review of Retrospective here.