Listening to Jimmy Smith
's early recordings is like listening to Chuck Berry
play "Johnny B. Goode." Today, every rock guitarist from junior high school on knows the riff and can play it by heart. But Chuck Berry did it first, and arguably best. There were no great rock guitar licks before Chuck Berry. He created the template.
It's the same with Jimmy Smith. Today, there are dozens of jazz organists who can play bop, blues and beyond. They're all funky, they all have chops. But without Jimmy Smith, there would be no jazz organ.
So listening to Jimmy's first recordingsthese two albums from 1956 you're tempted to think, "Yeah, I've heard that before. So what?" Except that in 1956, no one had heard this before. It was original. Everything else grew from this.
So... how are the albums? Not Jimmy's best, but still pretty good. Here, Smith is experimenting. Volume 1 is the more uneven of the two, Volume 2 is the more bop-oriented. But both must have been a revelation in 1956. Sometimes it sounds like cheesy roller skating rink music, but mostly the organ-guitar-drums trio is bluesy, toe-tapping or invigorating.
Guitarist Thornel Schwartz
is the surprise here. For a guy you've never heard of, he's surprisingly cool and swinging. To my ear, he reminds me of Grant Green
and Kenny Burrell
understated, tasteful and fun.
This isn't yet the funky Jimmy Smith of Back at the Chicken Shack or Organ Grinder Swing. But it really is, as the title promises, a new sound. And Smith truly was a new star. Moving to better places, and quickly, but this is where it all starts.
A word about buying these CDs: Don't bother with the individual CDs, or even the two-fer package Jazz Manifesto, which includes both volumes in one CD. Yes, you can buy used copies for just 50 cents. It's hard to argue with that. Better yetbuy Jimmy Smith's Eight Classic Albums. You can find it on eBay for around $10. It includes all the earliest Blue Note albums from 1956 and '57.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Availability: Plentiful, if you look for the compilation CDs
Cost: Around $10 for all 8 of Smith's first albums