Back at the Chicken Shack. The jazz organ is one of the few instruments that has been completely dominated by a single individual. That individual is Jimmy Smith. Born in Norristown, PA, Smith studied music in Philadelphia, a major jazz organ center. Starting on piano, he switched to the organ three years prior to his first recording date. Teaching himself the organ, Smith committed himself to the woodshed for three months, emerging with a fully formed, powerful playing style much in the same way Charlie Parker did in the mid 1940s.
The Catalog. Jimmy Smith created an essential catalog with two different record labels, Blue Note and Verve. His Blue Note catalog is the stuff of legend, concentrating on the blues, jump tunes, and jams. Pick any of the recordings, The Sermon, Back at the Chicken Shack, Midnight Special, they are all five-star recordings. His Verve recordings, while not on the same level as his Blue Notes, are more refined, several having Oliver Nelson Orchestrations. His two recordings with Wes Montgomery are certainly on the same levels as his seminal Blue Note sides.
Standards. Blue Note has released as a part of its Standards a collection of standards performed by Smith, Kenny Burrell, and Donald Bailey in a classic organ trio format. The recordings were made on August 25, 1957; July 15, 1958; and May 24, 1959. The first cut, "Little Girl Blue," was cut during the House Party and Confirmation sessions and the first five cuts were originally released on On the Sunny Side. The remaining pieces are unissued and were all recorded at the May 24, 1959 date.
There are no three-alarm blues orgies here. As described in the liner notes, "This is a mellow, black tie, date-night, smooth as silk affair...." All outings are ballads, nothing surprising there. The disc belongs as much to Kenny Burrell as it does to Smith. One could not imagine "Bye Bye Blackbird" or "Mood Indigo" without him. Smith's style is sure and true, like that found on the recordings released around these dates.
The Jazz Organ. The organ, guitar, drums and the organ, tenor, and drums trios are the most well defined subsets of Hard Bop and can be considered the dirtiest and most lowdown. The organ trio has never been considered a particularly refined area in jazz as was, say, the chamber jazz of the Modern Jazz Quartet. To this reviewer's ears, organ jazz has a nose of unfiltered cigarettes and scotch whiskey and a bottom of late nights and early mornings. David Rosenthal, in his tome, Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955 to 1965 perfectly captures this in saying, "Jazz as 'high art' has always drawn sustenance from jazz as 'folk art' (not unlike most Russian and Hungarian classical music, e.g., Aram Katchaturian and Bele Bartok). Often it's not clear which is 'better.' The classic comparison is between Duke Ellington and Count Basie, who was less 'highbrow' yet equally sublime...." This collection goes a long way in bridging this perceived gap while maintaining a firm Hard Bop identity. Jimmy Smith is a National treasure in the same way Louis Armstrong was. Honor him.
Riding On A Blue Note. Blue Note Records has released four other discs in their Standards series of recordings. They are The Three Sounds (BN23281), Sonny Clark (BN21283), Grant Green (BN21284), and Lee Morgan (BN21213). All of these recordings contain either previously unreleased or limited released material. All 50s and 60s Blue Note material should be welcomed and accepted as the history it is.
Track Listing: Little Girl Blue, Bye I Didn't Know What Time It Was, Memories of You, But Beautiful, Mood Indigo, While We're young, It Might As Well Be Spring, The Last Dance.
Personnel: Jimmy Smith (organ); Kenny Burrell (guitar); Donald Bailey (drums).