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Jimmy Smith Dies

Jimmy Smith, the Hammond B3 icon who creatively revolutionized the instrument’s use in jazz, died of apparent natural causes on Tuesday, February 8, at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Funeral arrangements are pending.

“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 B3 artist and friend, Joey DeFrancesco said yesterday.

Born in Norristown, Penn. on December 8, 1925, Jimmy Smith ruled the Hammond B3 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, attractive sound that many others immediately absorbed before following in his footsteps. Smith initially learned piano both from his parents and on his own. 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 and soon earned a great 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. They included collaborations with Kenny Burrell, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, Jackie McLean, Ike Quebec and Stanley Turrentine, among others. Smith also recorded for Verve from 1963 to 1972, with many of the records featuring big bands and using fine arrangements from Oliver Nelson. These included the excellent Walk on the Wild Side.

Jimmy Smith persevered in times when the Hammond organ seemed like it was down and out, and reigned as the master of the craft. The authentic sound of the Hammond still 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.

Originally Published