MEETIN’ JIMMY SMITH
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:26 December 2020
Growing up in a musical family, young Jimmy Smith learned piano and later, double bass. When he switched to organ in the mid-1950s after hearing Wild Bill Davis, Jimmy combined the two instrumental skills, utilising the bass pedals of his Hammond B3 to fill out the lower end of his sound. While this made the addition of a bass player unnecessary, Smith worked with many fine guitarists including Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery. A number of superb brass players also worked with the popular organist, including Stanley Turrentine (Tenor), Lou Donaldson (Alto) and Lee Morgan (Trumpet).
Amazingly prolific—in the last three years of the 1950s he produced a startling fifteen LPs—Smith is credited with the creation of what became known as ‘Soul Jazz’. Blues-driven, with lazy swing and plenty of mid-paced solos, this style is wonderfully illustrated on Smith’s album Prayer Meetin’. Recorded in February 1963 and released on Blue Note the following year as part of a contract-fulfilling deluge of four albums, this one features the alto sax of Stanley Turrentine (along with guitarist Quentin Warren and Donald Bailey on drums). The saxophonist and organist never combined better, and Prayer Meetin’ is a pleasure from beginning to end.
The title cut opens the LP, with the band in full sync from the off. It’s soulful, it’s foot-tapping, and when Turrentine steps forward to testify you know you are in the hall of sanctified jazz. Smith takes the next solo, playing single note runs (there’s the pianist on show) and building momentum. At six minutes, the tune actually feels too brief! The slow blues “I Almost Lost My Mind” follows. This extended piece showcases Turrentine’s fluid, languid style; he’s an under-appreciated tenor player and listening here, you’ll wonder why. It’s superb.
Jimmy Smith is nothing if not versatile, and his broad tastes can be heard in the Caribbean bounce of “Stone Cold Dead In The Market Place” and a swingin’ version of the gospel standard “When The Saints Go Marching In”. The grooving standard “Red Top” and a neat Smith original entitled “Picnickin’” round things out.
The LP’s original liner notes summarise the variety and delight of this album nicely. “They all add up to a Jimmy Smith Prayer Meetin’, and when he holds a prayer meetin’, everyone is in attendance.”
The Blue Note Tone Poet re-issues sound heavenly, by the way. Audio is clean and open, on pristine 180g vinyl, housed in good solid covers.
After some excellent albums on the famed Blue Note label, Jimmy Smith moved to Verve. On Verve his fame grew and spread even further, yielding many charting albums. Also hugely significant was Smith’s influence on the emerging UK pop scene of the mid-60s… check out early work by Georgie Fame, Steve Winwood and even John Mayall to hear how young British musicians absorbed what the Hammond B3’s most famous exponent was doing.
© Bruce Jenkins, 2020