JazzTimes 10: Classic Organ Jazz Albums

What to hear when you need to get your Hammond on

Though it’s been a part of jazz from its early days—Fats Waller recorded on it in 1926—the organ occupies a distinctive niche within the music. All the more so since the invention of the electric organ, which Laurens Hammond began marketing in 1935 and which caught on in jazz in the 1950s. Once a certain Philadelphia boogie-woogie pianist got his hands on it, a new jazz tradition was born, a tradition that was (and is) owned by him.

Jimmy Smith’s name frequently recurs in this list, in fact, although he only has one of its 10 entries to himself. But if it’s impossible to talk about jazz organ without Smith, we hope that this list will also demonstrate the broad range of other practitioners and innovators who put their stamp on the instrument.

1. Jimmy Smith: Back at the Chicken Shack (Blue Note, 1963 [recorded 1960])

Jimmy Smith was to the organ what J.J. Johnson was to the trombone, or Wes Montgomery to the electric guitar. He took an instrument that was already a recognized part of jazz and thoroughly reinvented it in his own image: a vehicle for funky, greasy soul and blues. Back at the Chicken Shack is the epitome of Smith-ism. From its soul-food title (and title track, a blues so hook-filled that it’s instantly familiar even if you’ve never heard it) to its long gospel-like solos from the organist, saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, and guitarist Kenny Burrell (with drummer Donald Bailey exercising taste even in his soloing on “Minor Chant”), Back at the Chicken Shack is everything that both jazz organ and organ jazz would ever become.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.