Organ Jazz: Jimmy Smith & Gloria Coleman
Ever since pianist Wild Bill Davis made his landmark transition to the Hammond organ in 1950, jazz has never been the same. A device once deemed suitable strictly for church sanctuaries, baseball stadiums and skating rinks, the organ remains a central pillar of jazz instrumentation, with much of the credit falling on the shoulders of the (literally) Incredible Jimmy Smith, who would have turned 80 this month according to a disputed birthdate. Also a former pianist, Smith followed Davis' lead and quickly catapulted to superstardom via his successful relationship with Blue Note Records. The organ tradition lives on today, as jazz fans continue to celebrate and (more importantly) purchase recordings made by Smith and his renowned peers such as Jack McDuff, Larry Young and Jimmy McGriff. However, in 2008, the jazz organ phenomenon isn't simply confined to re-releases of albums from the '50s and '60s, as major talents like Dr. Lonnie Smith, Mike LeDonne and Gloria Coleman continue to perform live and regularly record both live and studio sets.
Nevertheless, it's safe to say that it was Jimmy Smith that truly started it all. As Blue Note slowly but surely makes available his numerous, long-out-of-print recordings from the '50s, jazz fans get to experiencein relatively chronological orderthe sequence of events that led Smith from being a somewhat obscure trio leader performing in Delaware jazz haunts to claiming his title as one of the world's most popular and influential jazz figures. Live at the Club Baby Grand Vols. 1 & 2 takes us back to one of those aforementioned haunts in our 'First State' where five sets of music on an August day in 1956 resulted in Smith's debut live album. That same year, Smith made his first recordings for Blue Note, which are now compiled in Jimmy Smith At the Organ Vols. 1-3 (Volume 3 is the only one officially in print). For the date at the Baby Grand in Wilmington, Smith joined up with the two men that accompanied him on the second two volumes of At the Organ: Thornel Schwartz (guitar) and Donald Bailey (drums). Only one selection ("Get Happy") runs under nine minutes, as the trio finds no reason to get from point A to B in a timely fashion. Aside from Horace Silver's "The Preacher," all of the selections are standards that provide plenty of room for Smith to redefine the word 'virtuoso.' Various tempos are explored, such as the more relaxed one taken in a lovely rendition of "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" but the group truly shines on scintillating, upbeat numbers like "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Get Happy". On Baby Grand you won't find the cooled-out, laid-back soul jazz Smith would become famous for in the early '60s on Back at the Chicken Shack, et al. Here, he literally puts the pedal to the metal, resulting in fiery music that, were it actually played at a skating rink, might get the joint shut down due to melting ice!
Over 50 years later, in 2008, jazz-organist Gloria Coleman continues to honor the tradition pioneered by Smith with her new release Sweet Missy. The wife of famed tenor-sax man and Miles Davis-vet George (who appears here), Mrs. Coleman delivers a set more akin to the aforementioned early '60s Smith sessions; but there's absolutely nothing wrong with that! In fact her work here recalls the wonderful music made by another famous tenor sax/organ husband and wife team: Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott. The main highlight of Sweet Missy arrives in what might be the most user-friendly version ever recorded of John Coltrane's "Impressions".
Both of these releases continue to keep alive the time-honored jazz organ tradition, which is apparently (and thankfully) here to stay.
Tracks and Personnel
Jimmy Smith at Club Baby Grand, Vol. 1 & 2 (RVG)
Tracks: Vol. 1: Sweet Georgia Brown; Where or When; The Preacher; Rosetta. Vol. 2: Caravan; Love Is A Many Splendored Thing; Get Happy; It's All Right With Me.
Personnel: Jimmy Smith: organ; Thornel Schwartz: guitar; Donald Bailey: drums.
Tracks: Do It Again; Too Close For Comfort; Martin's Rhumba; Sweet Missy; I Just Found Out About Love; Confirmation; Put 'em in a box, Tie 'em with a ribbon; Blues Everywhere; When Did You Leave Heaven; Impressions; Confirmation (alt. Take).
Personnel: Gloria Coleman: organ; George Coleman: tenor sax; Eric Johnson: guitar; Dr. Lonnie Smith: piano; George Coleman Jr.: drums; Deszon Clairborne: drums.