The Incredible Jimmy Smith
I had gone to sleep Wednesday night, February 9, thinking that I would get Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith together to talk about the many times they made music for Blue Note Records. Later on the next day I was listening to KJAZZ to some Jimmy Smith and at the end the announcer said Jimmy had passed the day before in Phoenix, Arizona. I was mad because in an interview with Kenny done in 1996, he had said he would love to do another with Jimmy. He said there were two jazz musicians he loved to record with Jimmy and "Mr. Soul", Stanley Turrentine. Jimmy also loved to record with both and they recorded many as well as Stanley's first date, Midnight Special.
It was my mom who introduced me to Jimmy in 1961, when she brought All Day Long and Bashin' home and I heard Walk on the Wild Side expecting it to sound like Elmer Bernstein's movie version. Not! It was another expansion extemporaneously melded into the arrangements of Oliver Nelson. It was the Bomb. And as Trombonist Garnett Brown said, "you couldn't go anywhere around New York and not hear "Walk on the Wild Side".
Jimmy and Nelson again collaborated on The Cat , High Society , and Peter and the Wolf.
Jimmy was always state of the art... "James Oscar Smith.Com" was the internet moniker used by Jimmy Smith on a recent album entitled Dot Com Blues. He performed it on Conan O'Brien's Late Night a few years back. It was the first time O'Brien had any Jazz artists on his TV show. And Jimmy was swinging.
Jimmy was born in Norristown and was discovered at Small's Paradise by Alfred Lion of Blue Note records who always said he loved everything that Jimmy played and thoroughly enjoyed every recording session they did at Rudy Van Gelder's Recording studio.
One of Jimmy's favorite expressions was like the title of one of his most famous albums Crazy Baby. And he truly was a fun crazy guy who loved his Karate and would jokingly throw a punch at you and get as close as he could without hitting you. One of his old buddies George Campbell, nicknamed Little George by Jimmy said, "Jimmy loved to throw karate punches at you and would, almost knock the s___ out of you". Campbell went on to say, "Jimmy loved cheap champagne and whenever he came to the Parisienne Room in Los Angeles, he would come to my liquor store, Liquorama, and always ask for three bottles of Andre, Jacques Bonnet, and Cold Duck."
One week Jimmy was working with Richard Pryor on "Jo Jo Dancer" that also had Billy Eckstein. On the first break between a night club scene, Richard introduced JOS and Mr. B to the actors and crew and told Jimmy, all right, Jimmy, let's jam a little." And did he and Mr. B entertain singing and B-3 playing of "Jelly Jelly" and "Sonnymoon For Two" for 15 minutes. He was smoking so that the director just called lunch to cool off.
From 1970 to 1972, Jimmy and his wife Lola ran Club Jimmy Smith in North Hollywood. It was very successful for a few years and then it closed. But, Jimmy had his own personal arena to play every night. Jimmy was always swinging and entertaining everyone and on his break, he would mingle with the guests thanking them for coming.
Shelly Manne would tell me every time I went to the Manne-Hole to see Jimmy, that he loved Jimmy and his sound on the Hammond and that he could come to the Manne-Hole and perform anytime he wanted.
Kenny Burrell played with Jimmy on some of his funkiest albums like Back at the Chicken Shack , Midnight Special , The Sermon , and House Party , had this to say about their musical magnetism, "Jimmy Smith is an incredible genius. I always loved working with him because he's so full of surprises and because of the high level of music he plays. He's always unpredictableso full of surprises and a great sense of humorand he's a great character. I love the man and his music".
In the liners The Best Of Jimmy Smith Francis Wolff said, "He was a stunning sight. The air was filled with waves of sound I have never heard before coming from a Hammond Organ". Jimmy would Growl when he played and had a gravely sounding voice. Listen to "Got My Mojo Working"...
Jimmy introduced or showcased musicians who later would shine in their own light; Lee Morgan; Lou Donaldson; Roy Hargrove; Russell Malone; Blue Mitchell; and Joey DeFrancesco who recorded two albums with Jimmy and said, "He is a tremendous musician".
An Ode to James Oscar Smith:
All Day Long when it was possible, I'd listen to the Champ preach his Sermon during Prayer Meeting.
As James Oscar Smith mesmerized my ears with his inimitable New Sounds of the Hammond, inside I got My Mojo Workin'.