Jimmy Smith - Hammond B-3 organ; Quentin Warren - guitar; Donald Bailey -- drum
The undisputed heavyweight champion of the Hammond B-3 organ, Jimmy Smith revolutionized the unwieldy instrument by bridging the gap between bebop and blues with his earthy virtuosity. Though he wasn't the first to play organ in a jazz context (Fats Waller, Milt Buckner and Wild Bill Davis had been there before), Smith took the B-3 to places that it had never been before. Smith's July 4th appearance at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival on a Saturday afternoon was typically burning, marked by his virtuosic right-handed flurries on the keys, his grooving basslines on the hulking 300-pound instrument and an indelible soulful quality that successfully bridged bebop and the church into one scintillating package. He is accompanied by the accomplished jazz guitarist
Quentin Warren and the highly interactive and eternally swinging drummer Donald Bailey.
They open their Saturday afternoon set with a super-charged rendition of the jazz standard "Bye Bye Blackbird," a tune which had been covered at that point by the likes of Miles Davis, Following a smoking B-3 solo from Smith, guitarist Quentin Warren leaves his rhythm playing role and steps to the fore with some deliberate, swinging lines. Drummer Bailey's fiery exchanges with Smith near the end of this blazing number provide some added sparks on stage. For their second number, they take the tempo up a notch in pyrotechnic fashion on an interpretation of Charlie Parker's "Confirmation." Following an extended organ intro by Smith, they're off to the races with drummer Bailey setting the breakneck pace, and it's pure burn all-out burn from there. For a change of pace they next settle into an alluring "Cha Cha J," with Bailey underscoring the proceedings with a Latin beat. And before launching into the blistering set-closer, "The Champ," Smith advices the Newport audience to "fasten your safety belts." Indeed, this rocket ship takes off for the stratosphere, with Bailey's insistent ride cymbal work setting the pace and his unpredictable snare drum accents providing percolating counterpoint to Smith's unparalleled B-3 burn. One of his early tunes (the title track from his 1955 Blue Note album), "The Champ" would become one of Jimmy Smith's most requested tunes throughout his long and illustrious career.
Born on December 8, 1925 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Smith learned piano both from his parents and on his own. At age nine, he won first place in a talent competition playing boogie-woogie piano. At age 12, he teamed with his father in a song and dance act, performing at various clubs and on radio shows in and around Philadelphia. Following a stint in the Navy, he used the GI bill to attend Ornstein School of Music in 1949 and 1950 in Philadelphia, where he studied bass and piano. He switched to organ in 1951 while playing in Don Gardner's I. After a year-long period of intensive woodshedding, he emerged a full-blown organ monster, later debuting at age 30 with 1956's A New Star, A New Sound: Jimmy Smith at the Organ on the Blue Note label. Smith's appearance at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival helped launch his career. A perennial poll-winning organist, he followed with such successful Blue Note outings as 1957's House Party, 1958's The Sermon and 1960's Back at the Chicken Shack before switching to the Verve label in 1962 and subsequently scoring commercial successes with 1964's The Cat, 1965's Organ Grinder Swing and 1966's Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (his encounter with guitar great Wes Montgomery).
Smith continued recording through the '70s, '80s and '90s for a variety of labels, including Milestone and Elektra, as well as second tenures with Blue Note and Verve. After a five-year layoff, Smith returned to the scene in early 2001 on the strength of two releases, Dot Com Blues on Blue Thumb and the live Fourmost Return on Milestone. He remained a fixture in both small jazz clubs and large festivals right up until his untimely passing on February 8, 2005. A towering influence on generations of jazz musicians, Smith's B-3 legacy has been carried on by such burning disciples as Joey DeFrancesco, Larry Young, Lonnie Smith, Barbara Dennerlein, Tony Monaco and John Medeski. (Milkowski)