Jared Sims on Hammond B-3 Classics

Saxophonist picks tracks by Jimmy McGriff, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Groove Holmes and more


Jared Sims (photo courtesy of the artist)

I’m sharing my favorite vintage Hammond B-3 organ tracks. This music is primarily from the Chitlin’ Circuit—nightclubs that provided African-American audiences with bluesy and energetic jazz. This music thrived not only in New York City but also in smaller cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Richmond. My favorite organ tracks tend to be live recordings. I enjoy the magic that comes from a powerful groove and the interaction among skilled musicians.

Willis Gator Jackson & Richard “Groove” Holmes
The Definitive Black and Blue Sessions: Live on Stage (Black & Blue, 2003; rec. Jan. 26, 1980)
This band takes a simple lead-sheet tune and creates a transcendent masterpiece. Willis Jackson launches into a hard-blowing and intense saxophone solo that is fueled by backbeats and thick organ textures. Groove Holmes and Steve Giordano continue with ferocious solos followed by a shout chorus. The improvisation and group playing are so captivating that the melody on the head out serves as a reminder of how far the listener has journeyed. This configuration of players could easily sound like they’re in a blowing session, but the group instead plays like a band. I asked Roger Humphries, the drummer on this record, how this recording came together and he simply replied that they all really enjoyed themselves and locked in musically on this European tour. They indeed were able to capture the exuberance on tape!

Jimmy McGriff & Richard “Groove” Holmes
Giants of the Organ in Concert (Groove Merchant, 1972)
The bassline and the groove define this track—in particular, the second half of the form is really funky. Groove Holmes provides some of the best funky organ bass playing that I have heard on record. The rhythm-guitar playing halfway through the track completes what is a well-crafted groove. It’s a great composition and the solos are well done. Just as important, even with all of the musicians playing simultaneously, the groove never feels cluttered.

Dr. Lonnie Smith
Live at Club Mozambique (Blue Note, 1995; rec. May 21, 1970)
This track has a distinct vibe, with a tight groove and the looseness of a jam session. It’s more of a vibe than a composition, which is unique in and of itself. Smith’s brilliant eccentricity shines through as he sings on and off throughout the track and weaves through riffs that melt away the bar lines. The interplay between George Benson’s rhythm guitar and the organ bassline is outstanding.

Sonny Stitt With Don Patterson
Night Crawler (Prestige, 1966)
I never get tired of this track! The tempo is fast and driving while both soloists play with fire and intensity. Patterson’s right-hand articulation and phrasing are remarkable, and the way Stitt’s solo intertwines with the organ comping is brilliant.

Jimmy Smith
Groovin’ at Smalls Paradise (Blue Note, 1957)
Jimmy Smith released many good recordings, but this live one from 1957 really stands out because of the variety of sounds that Smith used. The melody and the short solo after the melody are particularly remarkable because of the timbre, phrasing and sonority. He solos again at the end of the tune and demonstrates an astounding control over the instrument.

Jimmy Smith
“ROOT DOWN (AND GET IT)” (alternate version, only on CD)
Root Down: Jimmy Smith Live! (Verve, 2000; rec. 1972)
I really enjoy hearing an organ track with a bass player, and Wilton Felder delivers some great bass playing on this record. The alternate take is definitely a bit rough around the edges, but the organ solo is explosive. Three-quarters of the way through the track, Smith unleashes some exceptional repeated rhythmic phrasing that is an impressive display of virtuosity.

Richard “Groove” Holmes
On Basie’s Bandstand (Prestige, 2003; rec. April 22, 1966)
“Rifftide” is a Coleman Hawkins tune inspired by Thelonious Monk’s “Hackensack.” This is some of the most impressive organ on record, in terms of meticulous bass and clear melodic playing. Holmes takes a second solo on the track that is even more impressive than the first. My best estimate is that the track starts at 320 bpm and ends at 360 bpm, so that is a good indication of the energy level that was in the room at the time of the recording. Groove Holmes proves his superhuman organ skills with this fascinating display of technique and execution.

Jared Sims is active internationally as a performer and clinician. His most recent recording, Change of Address, was released on Ropeadope Records in 2017, and he has another recording that will be released on Ropeadope this year. He is currently the Director of Jazz Studies at West Virginia University in Morgantown and the Artistic Director for the Jazz Camp at Newport, a summer program in Rhode Island.