Jimmy Smith - organ; Quentin Warren - guitar; William Hart - drums
The undisputed heavyweight champion of the Hammond B-3 organ, Jimmy Smith revolutionized the unwieldy instrument by bridging the gap between bebop and blues with his earthy virtuosity. Though he wasn't the first to play organ in a jazz context (Fats Waller, Milt Buckner and Wild Bill Davis had been there before), Smith took the B-3 to places that it had never been before.
With Quentin Warren on guitar and William (Billy) Hart on drums, Smith opens his July 5th set at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival with the bluesy "Sonnymoon for Two," a quintessential jamming vehicle composed by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Coming out of the familiar head, guitarist Warren offers a few swinging chorus on guitar before Smith enters with some blues statements on the B-3, gradually building his solo to stratospheric heights while anchoring the tune with his grooving foot pedal bass lines. Hart's playing is relaxed, loose and syncopated here, perfectly complementing Smith's incendiary keyboard work. By the halfway point of this nearly 15-minute marathon, it would seem that the organist might exhaust his supply of ideas, but he keeps blazing on with an audacious combination of chops, endurance and soul that leaves the audience stunned. His dynamic solo goes on for a full 10 minutes on this opening number without ever losing energy or excitement.
From that stratospheric, swinging opener, the Smith trio heads into more earthbound terrain with a rendition of Ray Charles' funky gospel-fueled hit from 1959, "I Got a Woman." They follow with a lush version of "Moonlight in Vermont," a huge hit in 1953 for guitarist Johnny Smith (with Stan Getz on tenor). Guitarist Warren carries this appealing melody while Smith lays a velvety cushion beneath his deliberate lines and drummer Hart underscores the proceedings with gently swinging brushwork. Smith does offer yet another dazzling keyboard solo here, but it's well within the context of the lyrical offering. The bluesy shuffle number "The Sermon" (title track of Smith's 1958 Blue Note album) is another chance for the great organist to showcase his inimitable B-3 burn. And he turns in a soulful reading of the churchified 3/4 number "Walk on the Wild Side" (from his 1962 Verve album, Bashin': The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith), which also features another show-stopping solo from the B-3 master. The trio closes out with a funky reading of the boogaloo "The Cat" (title track from Smith's Verve album recorded earlier that year), bringing the organist's Newport appearance to a rocking conclusion.
Born on December 8, 1925 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Smith learned piano both from his parents and on his own. At age nine, he wont first place in a talent competition playing boogie-woogie piano. At age 12, he teamed with his father in a song and dance act, performing at various clubs and on radio shows in and around Philadelphia. Following a stint in the Navy, he used the GI bill to attend Ornstein School of Music in 1949 and 1950 in Philadelphia, where he studied bass and piano. He switched to organ in 1951 while playing in Don Gardner's Sonotones. After a year-long period of intensive woodshedding, he emerged a full-blown organ monster, later debuting at age 30 with 1956's A New Star, A New Sound: Jimmy Smith at the Organ on the Blue Note label. Smith's appearance at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival helped launch his career. A perennial poll-winning organist, he followed with such successful Blue Note outings as 1957's House Party, 1958's The Sermon and 1960's Back at the Chicken Shack before switching to the Verve label in 1962 and subsequently scoring commercial successes with 1964's The Cat, 1965'sOrgan Grinder Swing and 1966's Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (his encounter with guitar great Wes Montgomery). Smith continued recording through the '70s, '80s and '90s for a variety of labels, including Milestone and Elektra, as well as second tenures with Blue Note and Verve. After a five-year layoff, Smith returned to the scene in early 2001 on the strength of two releases, Dot Com Blues on Blue Thumb and the live Fourmost Return on Milestone. He remained a fixture in bothsmall jazz clubs and large festivals right up until his untimely passing on February 8, 2005. A towering influence on generations of jazz musicians, Smith's B-3 legacy has been carried on by such burning disciples as Joey DeFrancesco, Larry Young, Lonnie Smith, Barbara Dennerlein, Tony Monaco and John Medeski. (Milkowski)
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