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Jimmy Smith dies at 79

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Guest Zeenat Aman

Jazz organ pioneer Jimmy Smith dies at 79


Reuters News Service

LOS ANGELES -- Organist Jimmy Smith, who helped change the sound of jazz by almost single-handedly introducing the electric riffs of the Hammond B-3 organ, has died at age 79 at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., his record label said Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the Concord record label said Smith died of natural causes.

Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 8, 1925, Smith ruled the Hammond B-3 in the 1950s and 1960s and blended jazz, blues, R&B, bebop and even gospel into an exciting stew that came to known as "soul jazz" -- an idiom that produced imitators, followers and fans.

"Anyone who plays the organ is a direct descendant of Jimmy Smith. It's like Adam and Eve -- you always remind someone of Jimmy Smith," jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco said in an interview with Reuters last year.

"He was the big pioneer, not only of the organ but musically. He was doing things that (John) Coltrane did in the '60s, but he did them back in '56 and '57," he added.

Paired with jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery in the 1960s, Smith first made his mark as a soloist on Blue Note Records where, as one critic noted, he turned the Hammond B-3 organ "into a down and dirty orchestra."

Among his best known albums on Blue Note were The Sermon!, Back at the Chicken Shack and Midnight Special.

Critic Gene Seymour writing in the Oxford Companion to Jazz, said, "Though he was not the first player to bring the electric organ to jazz, Smith gave the instrument the expressive power that Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker gave their respective saxophones."

The pipe organ had been used in jazz in the 1930s by such famous players as Fats Waller but it was obviously too big and too heavy to be lugged into jazz clubs. Smith was able to take his electric B-3 on the road and created a jazz trio of organ, drums and either guitar or saxophone.

Smith himself provided the bass lines with the organ.

Smith initially learned piano at home and then went on to study bass at music schools in Philadelphia.

He began playing the Hammond organ in 1951, and soon wound up playing in some of New York's most famous clubs, including Cafe Bohemia and Birdland.

Smith's Blue Note sessions from his 1956 New Sounds on the Organ to 1963 when he left the label included work with some of the major players of the day, including Kenny Burrell, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, Jackie McLean, Ike Quebec, and Stanley Turrentine.

On Verve from 1963 to 1972, he played with Montgomery and in big bands conducted or arranged by Oliver Nelson.

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