Soul Stream

1965 Downbeat Reader's Poll Best Organist

95 posts in this topic

That's what I'm trying to say. There is pre-JOS organ and post-JOS organ. A lot of people were fiddling with the organ before him, but you cannot deny that he started the organ trio craze and defined what that format sounded like.

No - Wild Bill, Bill Jennings and Chris Columbus were the originators and popularisers of the organ trio concept.

(Fiddling? Come on, Jim, you know better than that.)

As for exceptions like Baby-Face and Shirley Scott; there will always be exceptions. Shirley came from church, and had a lot of that in her playing (I've even seen pictures of her playing left hand bass on the top manual... a common practice among gospel organists). She also tried to make the organ sound like a piano, especially with her very bright solo sounds and her comping. She did some great stuff, I love her playing. Baby-Face came from the church, too... especially his bass sound. That's a whole different bag. Wild Bill Davis and Bill Doggett and their contemporaries were trying to make the organ sound like a big band.

baby Face's sound is fabulous! And as you say, does derive from church organists. I've got some recordings of Professor Herman Stevens where he sounds very much like Baby Face, though of course, in reality it's the other way round.

Jimmy Smith was the first to take the organ on its own terms, to combine the elements of the others and approach the instrument as the Hammond organ, rather than trying to make it be something it isn't. And I'm well aware others were doing left-hand bass, but nobody else was using the pedals like Jimmy did, which eventually led to people like Chester Thompson of TOP taking Smith's concept and applying it to funk basslines with much more success than most jazz organists (including Smith). Innovation and evolution.

Smith is akin to Charlie Christian. There is jazz guitar before Christian and jazz guitar after Christian. Smith was a turning point for the instrument.

The comparison with Christian sounds absolutely right to me. But you'd be astonished if the public perception and popularity (which is what those polls measure) of Christian was that he was as far ahead of Burrell, Kessell, Montgomery etc as JOS was of the other organists.

MG

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Yes, Clem...that was me. On a musical note, if you listen to Groovin' At Small's Paradise...Coltrane would even have to have sharpened his pencil for what Jimmy was laying down on that. Yeah, Jimmy was the Moses that led everyone to the promise land in more ways than one....

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Yes, Clem...that was me. On a musical note, if you listen to Groovin' At Small's Paradise...Coltrane would even have to have sharpened his pencil for what Jimmy was laying down on that. Yeah, Jimmy was the Moses that led everyone to the promise land in more ways than one....

Count me as a bit of a skeptic on this. Can anyone explain precisely what aspects of his musical language Coltrane learned from Jimmy Smith?

Guy

Edited by Guy

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just JOS got out there first & codified certain moves, some of which were unique, i.e. his style & others that were shared by others of his time & before.

I don't think that's really giving JOS enough credit, Clem. What he did seems to me a fair bit more than that. In addition to his technical innovations, which Jim's dealt with, JOS seems to me to have changed the THRUST of organ playing in a way that even people who don't particularly play like him still joined in. To me, that aesthetic revolution that JOS really did inaugurate is the most important thing.

Were other people working towards it at the same time? Possibly only Willette, and on the strength of only one side of a 45, can be documented. But other people in the Midwest, about whom we know comparatively little relating to their early days - Sam Lazar and Mel Rhyne are possible examples - may also have been feeling their way towards it. Also, I haven't heard enough Tommy Dean to know how his playing developed - I neglected to buy the LP that was pirated in the '80s - but he was some kind of flying version of Doggett in the mid fifties. There was also a guy called Jack Murphy in St Louis who never recorded; Grant Green worked with him, too, in the mid-fifties. But apart from Willette, all this is speculation on my part, because there's no evidence, or none that I've heard.

MG

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Actually, thinking about this a bit more later, the aesthetic push was actually in R&B. It was "I got a woman" and "This little girl of mine" - much harder and tighter than eg "Chains of love" and "Mama he treats your daughter mean"; and with that Gospel element coming in much stronger with Ray than with Clyde. Horace Silver picked up on this very quickly, emulating Ray's arrangements with the Jazz Messengers, and hitting the Gospel and Blues every bit as hard as Ray in his tunes and his playing. But it's likely that lots of people all over the country were woodshedding this new approach; just as they did in the 60s following James Brown's "Out of sight" and "Brand new bag".

It happened that, as far as organ was concerned, JOS got there first, albeit after Horace and the JMs. Thinking about the other organists we've mentioned earlier, who were around at the time, I seriously doubt if any of them could have managed to bring that Ray Charles thing into modern jazz without those technical elements that JOS developed. If you read Ray's autobiography, he was absolutely definite about needing guys with superb chops to play the stuff he had in mind - hence Wilkerson, Newman etc.

MG

Edited by The Magnificent Goldberg

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Here's a Downbeat article from 1960 where Coltrane talks about his influences. He doesn't mention Smith at all.

Guy

There was an audio recording of Coltrane speaking to an interviewer that was posted on here a few years ago where they talk about Jimmy Smith and Coltrane talks about how Smith's sound on the organ haunted him.

just JOS got out there first & codified certain moves, some of which were unique, i.e. his style & others that were shared by others of his time & before.

I don't think that's really giving JOS enough credit, Clem. What he did seems to me a fair bit more than that. In addition to his technical innovations, which Jim's dealt with, JOS seems to me to have changed the THRUST of organ playing in a way that even people who don't particularly play like him still joined in. To me, that aesthetic revolution that JOS really did inaugurate is the most important thing.

That's pretty much what I'm trying to say. I'm not downplaying anyone's importance (and for the record, I don't think I ever called Smith the "Bird of the organ". I think my Charlie Christian comparison is closer).

And clem, by me saying that no one plays like Jimmy Smith, I think that's true of most any great musician. Nobody can truly cop their style. Nobody sounds like Albert Collins. Nobody really sounds like Bird. Nobody can totally cop Armstrong. People can get close, but it isn't going to be the same. These people sound like they do because of a culmination of every life experience.

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Here's a Downbeat article from 1960 where Coltrane talks about his influences. He doesn't mention Smith at all.

Guy

There was an audio recording of Coltrane speaking to an interviewer that was posted on here a few years ago where they talk about Jimmy Smith and Coltrane talks about how Smith's sound on the organ haunted him.

Presumably we are talking about the interview with August Blume from 1959? Trane says, "It was Jimmy Smith for about a couple of weeks before I went with Miles--the organist. Wow! I'd wake up in the middle of the night man, hearing that organ. Yeah, those chords screaming at me."

I think it's a mistake to interpret this as Smith influencing Coltrane. It seems more like Coltrane thought the organ was really loud.

Guy

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Guy, I guess I'm just putting JOS in the musical context of the time. Who else was playing music that SOUNDED like what Smith was doing on Groovin At Small's Paradise. To me, the only one that is doing that sort of thing at the time was Trane. The fact that Coltrane left Jimmy Smith's group to join Miles' band just makes that musical connection that much stronger. I'm not saying who influenced who...but I hear some similar territory not shared by many at the time. Monk's harmonic sense was heavy on Jimmy too at this point...

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I'm not out to convince anybody. This is just my ears talking. I'll never convince anybody that it's not John Patton on Iron City and I'll never convince anybody that there was some trane/jimmy connection either.... Just my ears and I'm fine with all that too... :D

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...i'm not saying it's ALL "folk process" & shit but you can't simplify what happened 50-60 years ago by focusing primarily on a few big names, great as they are.

True TRUE TRUE & if anybody says otherwise, I got your back (to the extent that I'm here, which isn't much these days, but it's the thought that counts...).

It's funny though - far more often than not (but by no means always), the tops of the mountains still end up being the tops of the mountains. What changes is that we come to see them as part of the mountains instead of these isolated peaks that pop up out of the clouds. Crucial, fundamental difference that is, even if it has more to do with what we see in the mountains than what the mountains themself are.

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BTW, I'm probably beating a dead horse at this point, but I exchanged emails with David Wild today on this subject:

In a jazz bulletin board discussion of Jimmy Smith's playing, several other people have insisted that Smith was playing "sheets of sound" before Coltrane was, and implicitly that Coltrane got the idea for that style of playing from Smith. Obviously Coltrane played with Smith so this is a distinct possibility, but I am not sophisticated enough as a listener to determine whether this is true.

Since you are a Coltrane scholar, I'd be curious to read your opinion on this hypothesis.

I've never heard anyone advance Jimmy Smith as a major influence on Coltrane before. I honestly don't know Smith's really early work (1955) well enough to say something definitive about it. What I know of his playing suggests a lot of fast sixteenth runs, but those are (again, from memory) very blues based. whereas Coltrane's sheets of sound stuff is more harmonically varied, more groups of substitutions on a single chord. Consider too that Coltrane was really only with Smith for at most a month (September 1955); he gave the gig over to Odean Pope to join Miles. The sheets of sound approach is incipient in his solos with Miles, but it doesn't really appear as a full-fledged technique until the Monk period in 1957--quite a while after the short period with Smith. There's an interview with Coltrane where he mentions Jimmy Smith (maybe the 1958 Augie Blume interview), but the only comment I remember is something about "those screaming chords"...! There' s also an interview with Pope in Cadence (1987) where he talks about Coltrane a little. Asked about sheets of sound, Pope credits Hasaan ibn Ali, a legendary (underrecorded) Philly pianist, with whom Coltrane practiced. Hasaan was apparently working on some music theory ideas and Pope (at least) credits that as an influence on Coltrane. Pope mentions the Smith gig but says nothing about Smith influencing Coltrane.
Edited by Guy

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Isn't Pope still based down in Philly? Maybe somebody down there could bring up the subject with him, I'd be interested to hear his thoughts. (As well as more info on the Coltrane-Legendary Hasaan connection.)

Guy

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Thanks for sharing that Guy. Obviously, I'm no Coltrane scholar so it's interesting to hear his perspective. I wonder if you could possibley ask David Wild to specifically listen to "Groovin' at Small's Paradise." I think that is where the real sonic similarities begin and (really, ultimately) end for me. The paths diverge from there in my mine. I'd be VERY interested to hear what he thinks of that Smith session.

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Regarding mountains, tops 'n all, T.S. Elliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" may prove instructive, or not. Regarding JOS and downbeat, I'm not surprised he won again and again, the margin's a bit much but maybe some of it's that selfreinforcing thing going on...maybe we could do a poll compairing this to Gerry Mulligan's dominance of the Baritone category. so John Patton's underrated, esp'ly the latter stuff, didn't we all already know that?

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MG-- Ray took a while to get heated tho' as synthesizer/performer he put more together than anyone except Nat who was on other side of ecstatic spectrum (tho' they both had r-a-n-g-e). There's plenty plenty BLASTING race records pre-Ray, however, as you well know.

Yes, of course. But, with the exception of a couple of tracks Clyde recorded with the Dominoes - "Have mercy baby" and "The bells" are about it and he didn't follow up on them when he moved to Atlantic and the Drifters were formed - Ray was the leader. He was the one who made that synthesis between Blues, R&B & Gospel into an aesthetic, which Clyde never did. That affected everything, not just R&B; and the impact on R&B was immediate. Few R&B artists who had hits before 1954 also had them afterwards, unless they updated their styles (or unless there was some kind of novelty or gimmick). Major redundancies in the R&B world - and also among the honking sax men - at that point.

MG

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I think Wild's response is pretty much how I hear it. Listening to the Smith, I definitely agree that there is some 'sheets of sound' similarity in terms of the sheer volume of notes going on, but with Smith, these seem largely to be rapid diatonic/blues based scales, rather than with Coltrane, who as Wild says, would run 2/3 substitutions per chord, often.

I like Clem's Tatum comparison as well. Actually, I think Tatum is probably something of a halfway house: he quite often plays the chord, then elaborates with a run based on a substitution.

The Hasaan think is interesting. I don't necessarily hear it, but it is interesting in the context of the Monk-Hasaan-Taylor descriptor you sometimes read - and I certainly can hear similarities in concept between Taylor and sheets of sound (albeit not necessarily technical similarities).

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Thanks for sharing that Guy. Obviously, I'm no Coltrane scholar so it's interesting to hear his perspective. I wonder if you could possibley ask David Wild to specifically listen to "Groovin' at Small's Paradise." I think that is where the real sonic similarities begin and (really, ultimately) end for me. The paths diverge from there in my mine. I'd be VERY interested to hear what he thinks of that Smith session.

I think some of the stuff on the Mosaic box is even more "out". Especially some of his solo stuff on those sessions. Jimmy was really stretching, much more than he really ever did again.

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Anybody stop to considerthe possibility that the rapid 16th thing might be as much a "Philly thing" as it is anything? Benny Golson was into that stuff too, and as long as we're looking up back issues of Cadence, try & find the one where Golson says soemthing to the effect that for the longest, his perception of Trane was that of another Philly cat, working on the same stuff that all/most/a lot of them were, just harder. In other words, it wasn't until later in Trane's evolution that Golson heard him doing anything fundamentally different than what they (and others) had both been working to varying degrees on in Philly.

See, jazz used to work like that. It wouldn't be jsut one guy coming up with something that changed the world all by himself, there used to be communities of players with a pool of common ideas, common local slants on broader ideas, and then individual slants on those local slants. Now, we haven't even covered Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy Heath, the Granoff School of Music & Dennis Sandole, ya'know, all the specifically local elements that were part of the overall musical fabric of the community. Even if not everybody had direct exposure to every element, in a community where players hang. shed, study, live, and play together as a matter of fact daily existence, shit gets out into broader circulation without too much effort. Trane hit it harder and more in=depth than anybody else (that's been documented anyway), but that was just Trane being Trane. There was no halfass anything with him, it seems.

FWIW, I've heard pieces of later Smith that show a helluval lot of Trane influence, I think. Fast lines with the chord superimposition thing going on. He pulls it off effortlessly. But this is all 80s stuff I'm thinking of (and at one point there was a cheapo live tape in the area - on a cheapo cassette badly recorded on a cheapo portable - from a Dallas club date ca. 1981 where he played like this at length, all night in fact. But the tape wasn't mine & couldn't get a copy of it. Now, who knows where it is?), so the assumption would be that Smith was influenced by Trane, which is probably true. But hell, they kneweach other in Philly, the gigged together for a short while, and no doubt it was all "in the air" there. So to make too much of a deal about who influenced who is to overlook the more overriding, more important point - that maybe, just maybe, that whole style in all its forms & degrees, was a product of a thriving musical community of which Trane & JOS were both actively invoived in.

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Yeah Jim, you could be very well right about that. As we musicians know first hand, a lot of this language is a local thing in many ways. Trading ideas, hanging at the local spots and listening to what others a playing. So, good point and one we hadn't even though of previously.

And yes, Smith really revived that style he had earlier once you get to things like All The Way Live and that 80's thing he was doing....he was a genius in every way and just oozed that stuff.

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