Jimmy Smith (December 8, 1925 or 1928 – February 8, 2005) was a jazz musician whose performances on the Hammond B-3 electric organ helped to popularize this instrument. In 2005, Smith was awarded the NEA Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor that the United States bestows upon jazz musicians.
He purchased his first Hammond organ, rented a warehouse to practice in and emerged after little more than a year with an exciting new sound which was to completely revolutionize the way in which the instrument could be played. It was sometimes said his year or so of practice, in that New York warehouse, essentially alone with the instrument, and his music, changed his life completely - but what can be safely said is that after the New York warehouse days, a new music was born; and by the middle of the 1960s he was - without challenge - referred to as "The Incredible" in the industry.
Upon hearing him playing in a Philadelphia club, Blue Note's Alfred Lion immediately signed him to the label and with his second album, also known as The Champ, quickly established Smith as a new star on the jazz scene. He was a prolific recording artist and, as a leader, The Incredible Jimmy Smith recorded around 40 sessions for Blue Note in just eight years beginning in 1956. His most notable albums from this period include The Sermon!, House Party, Home Cookin' , Midnight Special, Back at the Chicken Shack and Prayer Meetin' .
Smith signed to the Verve label in 1962. His first album, Bashin', sold well and for the first time set Smith with a big band, led by Oliver Nelson. Further big band collaborations followed, most successfully with Lalo Schifrin for The Cat and guitarist Wes Montgomery, with whom he recorded two albums: The Dynamic Duo and Further Adventures Of Jimmy and Wes. Other notable albums from this period include Blue Bash and Organ Grinder's Swing with Kenny Burrell, The Boss with George Benson, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Got My Mojo Working, and Root Down.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Smith recorded with some of the great jazz musicians of the day such as Kenny Burrell, George Benson, Grant Green, Stanley Turrentine, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, Jackie McLean, Grady Tate and Donald Bailey.
In the 1970s, Smith opened his own supper club in Los Angeles, California and played there regularly with guitarist Paul C. Saenz, Larry Paxton on drums and Freddy Garcia on saxophone.
Smith had a career revival in the 1980s and 1990s, again recording for Blue Note and Verve, and for Milestone and Elektra. Smith also recorded with other artists including Quincy Jones/Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Joey DeFrancesco.
His last major album, Dot Com Blues (Blue Thumb, 2000), featured many special guests such as Dr. John, B. B. King and Etta James.
While the electric organ had been used in jazz by Fats Waller, Count Basie, Davis and others, Smith's virtuoso improvisation technique on the Hammond helped to popularize the electric organ as a jazz and blues instrument. The B3 and companion Leslie speaker produce a distinctive sound, including percussive "clicks" with each key stroke. Smith's style on fast tempo pieces combined bluesy "licks" with bebop-based single note runs. For ballads, he played walking bass lines on the bass pedals. For uptempo tunes, he would play the bass line on the lower manual and use the pedals for emphasis on the attack of certain notes, which helped to emulate the attack and sound of a string bass.
Smith influenced a constellation of jazz organists, including Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Joey DeFrancesco and Larry Goldings, as well as rock keyboardists like Jon Lord, Brian Auger and Keith Emerson. More recently, Smith influenced bands such as the Beastie Boys, who sampled the bassline from "Root Down (and Get It)" from Root Down—and saluted Smith in the lyrics—for their own hit "Root Down," Medeski, Martin & Wood, and The Hayden-Eckert Ensemble. Often called the father of acid jazz, Smith lived to see that movement come to reflect Smith's organ style. In 1999, Smith guested on two tracks of a live album, Incredible!, the hit from the 1960s, with his protégé, Joey DeFrancesco, a then 28-year-old organist. Smith and DeFrancesco later played together on the collaborative album Legacy, released in 2005 shortly after Smith's death. In the 1990s, Smith went to Nashville, taking a break from his ongoing gigs at his Sacramento restaurant which he owned and, in Music City, Nashville he continued his cutting edge work, he worked with a webmaster to produce Dot Com Blues, his last Verve album.
1956: A New Sound... A New Star... Jimmy Smith at the Organ Volume 1
1956: A New Sound A New Star: Jimmy Smith at the Organ Volume 2
1956: The Incredible Jimmy Smith at the Organ
1956: At Club Baby Grand Volume One
1956: At Club Baby Grand Volume Two
1957: A Date with Jimmy Smith Volume One
1957: A Date with Jimmy Smith Volume Two
1957: Jimmy Smith at the Organ Vol. 1
1957: Jimmy Smith at the Organ Vol. 2
1957: The Sounds of Jimmy Smith
1957: Plays Pretty Just for You
1957: Jimmy Smith Trio + LD
1957: Groovin' at Small's Paradise
1958: House Party
1958: The Sermon!
1958: Softly as a Summer Breeze
1958: Cool Blues
1958: Six Views of the Blues
1959: Home Cookin'
1960: Crazy! Baby
1960: Open House
1960: Plain Talk
1960: Midnight Special
1960: Back at the Chicken Shack
1961: Straight Life
1962: Plays Fats Waller
1963: I'm Movin' On
1963: Rockin' the Boat
1963: Prayer Meetin'
1985: One Night With Blue Note, Preserved - Vol. 3
1986: Go For Watcha Know
1993: The Master
1993: The Master II
1963: Any Number Can Win
1963: Blue Bash (with Kenny Burrell)
1963: Hobo Flats
1963: Live at the Village Gate (Metro)
1964: The Cat
1964: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
1964: Christmas Cookin'
1965: Organ Grinder Swing
1965: Got My Mojo Workin'
1965: In Hamburg Live (Metro)
1965: Live in Concert /Paris/Salle Pleyel Live (Metro)
1965: La Métamorphose des cloportes (Soundtrack) *
1966: Hoochie Coochie Man
1966: Peter and the Wolf
1966: Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (with Wes Montgomery)
1966: Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes (with Wes Montgomery) *
1967: Plays the Standards (Sunset SUS-5175/SUM-1175)
1967: Best of Jimmy Smith
1968: The Boss
1968: Livin' It Up
1968: Stay Loose
1968: Live Salle Pleyel (Trema) *
1970: Groove Drops
1971: The Other Side of Jimmy Smith
1971: I'm Gonna Git Myself Together
1971: In a Plain Brown Wrapper
1972: History of Jimmy Smith [2-LPs]
1972: Root Down - Live
1973: Portuguese Soul
1996: Angel Eyes
2000: Dot Com Blues
1981: All The Way Live (with Eddie Harris)
1989: Prime Time
1990: Fourmost Live
1990: Fourmost Return
1993: Sum Serious Blues'
1955: The Fantastic Jimmy Smith with Don Gardner trio
1972: Newport In New York '72/The Jimmy Smith Jam, Vol.5 (Atlantic Records)
1974: Black Smith (Pride)
1974: Paid in Full (Mojo)
1975: '75 (Mojo)
1976: Sit on It! (Mercury)
1977: It's Necessary (Mercury)
1978: Unfinished Business (Mercury)
1980: The Cat Strikes Again (Laserlight)
1980: Second Coming (Mojo)
1982: Off the Top (Elektra)
1983: Keep on Comin' (Elektra)
2001: Black Cat/Daybreak (Castle)
Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby - The Original Jam Sessions 1969 (Concord) 2004
Lenny White - Venusian Summer (L. White/J. Smith/Larry Young/Larry Coryell/Al DiMeola/Weldon Irvine/Hubert Laws) (Nemperor) 1975
James Ingram - It's Your Night (QWest) 1983
Stanley Turrentine - Straight Ahead (S. Turrentine/J.Smith/G.Benson/L.McCann) (Blue Note) 1984
Frank Sinatra - L.A. Is My Lady (Warners) 1984
Michael Jackson - Bad (Hammond B3 Midi organ solo in "Bad") (Epic/Sony) 1987
Dee Dee Bridgewater - Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver (Verve) 1994
Joey DeFrancesco - Incredible! (Concord) 1999
Joey DeFrancesco - Legacy (Concord) 2005