The Fantastic Jimmy Smith
Empire Music Group
In any discussion of the Hammond organ, all praises must be given to Jimmy Smith, the acknowledged Allah of the B-3. The native of Norristown, Pa., single-handedly revolutionized the concept of jazz on that hulking 400-pound instrument in the same way that Charlie Parker altered the course of the saxophone. Smith exploded onto the national scene in 1956 with his audacious Blue Note debut, A New Sound, A New Star, on which he flaunted his dazzling right-hand technique and an inherent desire to burn. Smith didn't always play that way; prior to that turning point in his career he was the kind of organ player who was very much under the influence of his primary inspiration, Wild Bill Davis. The Fantastic Jimmy Smith (Empire Musicwerks 39012-2; 46:21), a rarity from the vaults of Bruce Records, documents the organist in his developing stage when he was a member of the Sonotones, a local Philly group led by singing drummer Don Gardner, between 1953 and 1955. Smith takes a bit of a backseat to honking tenor saxophonist Al Cass on the 16 R&B-flavored tracks here. The burn is still present in his playing, particularly on uptempo instrumental tracks like "Jimmy's Jam," "Jughead" and "Jimmy's Swing." But even on those romper-stompers he doesn't break free of Wild Bill's locked-hands approach and sail off on those multinote right-hand excursions that would later become a Smith trademark. Gardner lends his velvety Herb Jeffries-styled vocals to two doo-wop numbers, "Tell Me" and "I Hear a Rhapsody," and the overly dramatic ballad "I'll Walk Alone." This disc hardly measures up expectations of what Smith can do, but it does provide a missing chapter for collectors and completists.