Home » Jazz Articles » Jimmy Smith: Jimmy Smith: Groovin’ at Smalls Paradise – 1957

19
My Blue Note Obsession

Jimmy Smith: Jimmy Smith: Groovin’ at Smalls Paradise – 1957

By

Sign in to view read count
It’s loud, bombastic and somewhat experimental. It is Jimmy Smith pulling out all the stops--literally.
I love the jazz organ. I love Jimmy Smith. But I don't love Groovin' at Smalls Paradise.

When Smith burst onto the scene in 1956, he was a genuine phenomenon. Not only was he wildly popular, but also wildly prolific. In just three years, from 1956 to 1958, Smith put out a mind-boggling 23 albums. Blue Note had a bona fide star, and the label sure knew how to milk the craze.

Some of those records were just so-so. Some made you drop your jaw and think, "You can do THAT on an organ?!"

Smith's first few records fall into the so-so category. They were good, but they were also novelties, and Smith was still figuring out what he could say with this odd jazz instrument. In any case, they were popular.

Groovin' at Smalls Paradise falls into the jaw-dropping category. It's loud, bombastic and somewhat experimental. It is Jimmy Smith pulling out all the stops—literally—making music and sounds (and noise) that no one had ever made on a jazz organ.

This is a trio record—Smith on organ, Eddie McFadden on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums—but it's almost entirely Jimmy's show. When it cooks, Groovin' is red hot. Smith is positively on fire on blazingly fast bop tracks like "Indiana" and "The Champ" and "Walkin." Nearly all the songs, including the ballads, start with a one-minute improvised organ intro. This isn't organ music, in the usual sense, so much as Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker on a new instrument, spitting out notes hard and fast.

McFadden, the guitarist, is generally tasteful and laid back, though he gets a blazing spotlight on "Indiana." Bailey on drums is solid and dependable, but not flashy.

So what's not to like? First, there's the organ sound. On many tracks, Smith has the organ on some crazy staccato setting, where everything sounds too harsh. Then there are the ballads, which are merely so-so. Smith is best when he's incendiary. At a slow trot, he's less interesting.

Finally, there's the blues—as in, not enough. Smith's best records, just a year or two later, were filled with soulful, mind-blowing blues. Think of Back at the Chicken Shack and Midnight Special. There is one terrific blues-soaked track on Groovin'—"After Hours"—but it's not enough. I guess it took 23 records for Smith to finally find his trademark sound.

So Groovin' at Smalls Paradise (the complete 2-CD set with 13 tracks, most of them longer than 10 minutes) is great when it's fiery or bluesy. But it's a step or two away from greatness.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Easy to find

Cost: A ridiculous $21 new, but $7 used

FOR THE LOVE OF JAZZ
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

WE NEED YOUR HELP
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.

Post a comment

Tags

More

Thoughts & Images
Alex Tremblay
More Touch
Patricia Brennan
Hubub!
Ted Kooshian

Popular

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and includes upcoming jazz events near you.