RIP Jimmy Smith
Smith's B-3 to roar no more; organist dies at 79
February 10, 2005
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter
The Hammond B-3 organ is a profound instrument with a powerful sound. It is
not for modest men.
The searing audacity of Jimmy Smith helped make him a master in the B-3
field. Mr. Smith died of apparent natural causes Tuesday at his home in
Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 79 years old.
Mr. Smith was an original.
Who else would cut a 20-minute song called "The Sermon" (in tribute to Blue
Note pianist Horace Silver), as Mr. Smith did in 1958 for Blue Note
Records. "That's the one song that really made my leg tired," Mr. Smith
said in a 2003 Sun-Times interview. "That's a long time to play. I kept
going through fortitude and attitude." Those were the keys to Mr. Smith's
He achieved tonal quality by deploying his left hand not just to play
notes, but to change settings on the B-3's drawbars. He knew how to
telegraph lean bass lines on the pedals while employing lithe handwork over
the keyboards. This is how Mr. Smith painted a mosaic of raging styles,
including hard bop, deep gospel and rhythm and blues.
Mr. Smith's all-star Blue Note groups included Art Blakey on drums, Lee
Morgan on trumpet and Kenny Burrell on guitar. He also recorded for Verve
Records from 1963 to 1972. His 1972 Verve release "Bluesmith" included the
evocative "Mournin' Wes," a tribute to jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. Smith
had mentored former Montgomery sideman Melvin Rhyne when he switched from
piano to Hammond B-3.
Mr. Smith was born in Norristown, Pa., on Dec. 8, 1925. After serving 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 debuted on the Hammond
organ in 1951. New York organist Wild Bill Davis helped Mr. Smith
understand the rhythmic marriage between pedals and hands.
The Hammond organ weighs more than 400 pounds, and hitting the road with
the instrument is not an easy task. Mr. Smith was never intimidated. "Aw,
I've moved it a lot," he said in 2003. "Sure, that thing is heavy. In most
of the big-city clubs, I'd give two winos a jug of wine to help me move it.
I've been there."
Mr. Smith was everywhere. In 2003 he appeared at Pete Miller's Steakhouse
in Evanston, after which he jetted off to shows in Istanbul, Turkey, and
Warsaw, Poland. Later this month he was planning to tour with fellow B-3
artist Joey DeFrancesco to promote their studio album "Legacy," due for
release next week on Concord Records.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
- This is really sad news. He was one of my favorites -- incredible album covers, too.
Carl Zimring <cz28@...> wrote:<http://www.suntimes.com/output/music/cst-ftr-smith10.html>
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