Thursday, January 29, 2015

Victor Feldman and Frank Rosolino: The "Lost" Recordings

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

For about two years in the late 1950s, I had the pleasure of hanging out with pianist/vibist Victor Feldman and trombonist Frank Rosolino who were then regular members of bassist's Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse Cafe All-Stars in Hermosa Beach, CA.

These were my formative years in Jazz and I always thought of the many nights at I spent at the club listening to set after set of the Lighthouse All-Stars as my “undergraduate education.”

The drummer with the All-Stars at that time was Stan Levey When I hounded him for lessons, he got gruffly and turned me over to Victor saying: “He even knows the name of the rudiments.” [Stan was being defensive as he was self-taught and not all that technically conversant with “drum speak.” He just played his backside off instead.]

What an understatement as I soon found out that before he turned to vibes and piano, Victor had been a World Class drummer [think Buddy Rich - Yes, he was that fast].

The closing time for the club was 2:00 AM, but on weekdays, most of the patrons were gone by midnight. At the witching hour, the musicians sometimes congregated in the back of the club to relax, have a smoke and conduct Jazz 101 with aspiring, young musicians before playing a last set.

Often, Jazz 101 consisted of war stories and one night while I was sitting in the back of the club with Victor and Frank Rosolino, Victor told a heart-breaking tale of the “lost tapes” he had made a few years earlier with a rhythm section of Hank Jones on piano, Bill Crow on bass and Kenny Clark and Joe Morello on drums [they split the two, recording sessions].

Before leaving Woody Herman’s Big Band and settling in with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars for a three year stint beginning in 1957, Victor had made a prior arrangement to record an album for Keynote Records and set about making arrangements for the date.  Bassist Bill Crow tells the tale of this ill-fated Feldman, Keystone recording session in his book From Birdland to Broadway [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 119-120].

“One night [in 1955] a young man sat at the Hickory House bar listening and smiling as we played [the Marian McPartland Trio featuring Bill Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums]. When our set was finished, he introduced himself as Victor Feldman. The talented English vibraphonist had just arrived in New York, and had come to meet Marian. He said he liked the way Joe and I played together.

‘I’m doing an album for Keynote,’ Victor told us, ‘and I’d like you guys to do it with me. I’ve already sort of promised it to Kenny Clarke, so I’ll have him do the first date and Joe the second. I’ve got Hank Jones on piano.

Both dates went beautifully. Victor had written some attractive tunes, and he and Hank hit it off together right away. We couldn’t have felt more comfortable if we’d been playing together for years. Victor was glad to have the recording finished before he left town to join Woody Herman’s band.

The next time I ran into Vic, he told a sad story. The producer at Keynote had decided to delay releasing the album, hoping Victor would become famous with Woody. But the next Keystone project ran over budget, and when he needed to raise some cash, the producer sold Victor’s master tapes to Teddy Reig at Roost Records. Vic came back to New York, discovered what happened, and called Reig to find out when he planned to release the album.

‘Just as soon as Keystone sends me the tape,’ said Reig.

Vic called Keystone to ask when this would take place, and was told the tape had already been sent. A search of both record companies offices failed to locate the tape, and as far as I know it was never found. It may still be lying in a storeroom somewhere, or it may have been destroyed.

Since Keystone announced the album when we did the date, it was listed in Down Beat in their “Things to Come” column, and that information found its way into the Bruyninckx discography, but now that Vic and Kenny are both gone, that music exists as a lovely resonance in the memories of Joe, Hank and myself.”

Frank and I were horrified. “Some Christmas present,” Frank said, reflectively. He went on to say: “That better not happen with the tapes from the session we just finished.”

The recording session that Frank was referring to occurred on December 22, 1958 and while the outcome was not as irrevocable as was the case with the never-found tapes of Victor’s Keystone tapes, it DID happen that the Rosolino tapes were also, never released, at least, not until almost thirty years later [Frank died in 1978].

In 1987, Fantasy acquired the tapes from the December 22, 1958 Rosolino session and finally released them on LP as Frank Rosolino: Free For All [SP-2161]. The date was also released on CD in 1991 [Specialty Jazz Series OJCCD 1763-2].

Leonard Feather explains the story this was in his insert notes to the CD.

“Surprises of the kind represented by this album are as rare as they are welcome. The appearance of a hitherto undocumented album by Frank Rosolino makes a valuable addition to the discographical annals of an artist whose memory is cherished by admirers around the world.

His career seemed, on the surface, to have been reasonably successful. Born in Detroit in 1926, he came up through the big band ranks, playing with Gene Krupa, Bob Chester, Herbie Fields and Georgie Auld, then leading his own group in Detroit before joining Stan Kenton in 1952.

Two years later, he settled in Southern California and became, for several years, a regular in Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars in Hermosa Beach. His free-wheeling, extrovert style did not conform to the then prevalent image of West Coast jazz as tightly organized, laid back and somewhat derivative.

Moreover, Rosolino was known from the early days as an incurable comic, whose bop vocal on "Lemon Drop" with the Krupa band marked his first appearance on film. As Benny Carter once commented, "Frank was a fantastic musician, but behind that cut-up personality was a troubled man. He was like Pagliacci.”

Frank made his recording debut as a leader with a 1952 session for the short lived Dee Gee label. There were other dates for Capitol, Bethlehem and Mode, but by the mid-1960s the only available Rosolino album was a Reprise set that featured him mainly as a comedy singer. The existence of the present volume was unknown except to those who had taken part in it — and, particularly, the man who produced it, David Axelrod.

"Frank and I were excited about this album," Axelrod recalls, "because it was going to be the first hard bop album recorded and released on the West Coast. We wanted to get away from that bland, stereotyped West Coast image. We worked for weeks on planning the personnel and the songs. The results were terrific. It was a great disappointment to us both that the record, for reasons we never understood, wasn't released."

Rosolino confirmed this view in a letter he sent to Specialty some nine months after the session. "I feel it's the best album I have ever recorded; everyone who was on the date feels the same. I've played the dub for numerous musicians and they all think it's just great."

Harold Land, whose tenor sax shared the front line with Frank's trombone, was already well established as a proponent of the more vigorous California sound; he had toured with the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet in 1954-5 and went on to lead various combos in addition to working, off and on ever since 1955, in the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.

Victor Feldman, who had arrived from England in 1955 and settled in Los Angeles after touring with Woody Herman, has worked for many years in studios, often playing mainly percussion and vibes, but his jazz reputation (primarily on piano) is a formidable one. Two years after these sides were made he joined Cannonball Adderley; in 1963 he recorded and gigged with Miles Davis.

Stan Levey, one of the foremost bebop drummers of the 1940's, played with everyone from Dizzy and Bird to Herman and Kenton, then joined the Rumsey group at the Lighthouse. By 1972, tired of boring studio jobs, he gave up playing in order to concentrate on his growing success as a commercial photographer.

Leroy Vinnegar, born in Indianapolis, settled in Los Angeles in 1954 and has worked with innumerable groups led by Stan Getz, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Smith, Shorty Rogers, Buddy Collette, and the Crusaders.

Typical of Frank Rosolino's ingenuity is the opening cut; he tackled Love for Sale in 6/4, moving into a fast 4/4 for the bridge. His own solo and Land's establish immediately that this is a tough, no-holds-barred blowing session.

Twilight is a beguilingly pensive example of Victor Feldman's talent as a composer.
There is no improvisation here until the solo by Land, who also plays under Frank's eloquent excursion.

Frank deals with the melody, while Harold offers appropriate fills on Henry Nemo's Don't Take Your Love From Me. Note the easy moderate beat sustained behind Frank's solo, the typically inventive Land outing, and Feldman's evolution from single note lines to chords.

Chrisdee, an original by Stan Levey, was named for his sons Chris and Dee and is a bebop line based on a cycle of fifths, with a somewhat Monkish bridge. After Frank and Harold have adroitly negotiated the changes, there is a series of fours, with Leroy walking a passage and Stan in a couple of brief solo statements.

Stardust is Rosolino throughout, a masterful example of his approach to a well-worn standard into which he breathes new life. The verse is played slowly, the tempo picks up a bit for the chorus, and the beat is later doubled, with Frank's sinuous lines growing busier before he closes it out on the dominant.

Frank composed Free Fall the album's title tune as a funky blues theme that offers 24 bars to Leroy, four choruses (48 bars) to Frank, three to Harold and two to Victor before the theme returns, ending with a suddenness that was typical of the hard bop era.

Frank worked out the routine on There is No Greater Love, an Isham Jones standard that dates back to 1936 and is as much in use as ever at jam sessions a half century after its debut. The unison horns kick it off at a bright pace,- after Harold's and Frank's solos, Victor gets into a single-note bop bag.

Finally, Frank's own Sneakyoso provides the quintet with an ingenious vehicle, its attractive changes providing good opportunities for Frank to work out. Note the fine comping Victor furnishes for Harold Land before taking over for his own solo. The two horns engage in an exchange with Stan Levey before the head returns.

All in all, this is a superior, even superlative example of the genre of music it represents. Frank was right to be so proud of it. Talking to Stan Levey while preparing these notes, I was not surprised when he remarked: "I never heard anyone else quite like Frank. He put into his music much more than he ever achieved out of it. I remember this session well, and I'm happy it's being made available."

Sadly, Frank did not survive to see its release. … [He died under tragic circumstances] in November of 1978 …..

Free for All is a very welcome reminder of an exceptionally gifted artist who left us much too soon.”

Leonard Feather, 1986 (Leonard Feather is the Los Angeles Times jazz critic.)

The following video features Frank, Harold, Victor, Leroy and Stan on Chrisdee.

Who knows Maybe one day, someone will find the tapes of Victor’s 1955 session for Keystone and I can change the title of this piece from “lost” to “found.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Porgy and Bess Goes Latin - Nueva Manteca

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

For background information regarding the PORGY AND BESS GOES LATIN phase of our continuing theme of Jazz interpretations of the Gershwin opera, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought these insert notes from Nueva Manteca which was released by the Dutch-based Latin Jazz group in 1994 [Lucho 7714-2] might prove helpful.

“The idea of performing the gorgeous songs from Gershwin's masterwork 'Porgy and Bess' in a jazz format has been realized often in a most convincing way. One only has to think of the deeply moving version by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong with the Russ Garcia Orchestra or that other classic: The Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration. Remarkably enough a Porgy and Bess album has never been recorded in a Latin version.

George Gershwin himself loved jazz and greatly admired Thomas 'Fats' Waller and Art Tatum. He also had a deep interest in what we nowadays call 'World Music'. In 1932 he embarked for Havana, Cuba. Enjoying the good life, Gershwin found Cuba 'most interesting, especially for its small dance orchestras who play most intricate rhythms most naturally', as he wrote to a friend upon his return.

Inspired by his short visit to Cuba, Gershwin wrote the symphonic work 'Rumba'. According to his own words, in Rumba “... [he] endeavoured to combine the Cuban rhythms with his own original thematic material.” On the title page of the score Gershwin instructed that the players of four of the Cuban instruments he had brought back from Cuba — bongos, gui'ro, maracas and claves — should be placed in front of the conductor's stand, visible to the audience.

In 1934 Gershwin made another field trip. This time he travelled from New York to Charleston, South Carolina. His purpose was to visit the setting of his opera 'Porgy and Bess'. He also wanted to meet the people about whom librettist, DuBose Heyward, had written. From Charleston, Gershwin took the ferry to Folly Island. This island belongs to the group of Georgia Sea Islands. The Afro-American inhabitants speak the Gullah dialect with a vocabulary comprising some four thousand words. This dialect seems of West African derivation.

Although Gershwin found himself in a totally foreign environment far away from the glitter of Broadway, he immensely enjoyed 'going native' and immersed himself in the social and musical life. He frequently attended prayer meetings, participating in the so called 'Ring Shout'. The Ring Shout is a shuffling dance in anticlockwise direction accompanied by complex rhythmic patterns beaten out by feet and hands. Ring Shouts are a familiar characteristic of the 'Sanctified' and 'Pentecostal' churches and are believed to be derived from West African dances. The term 'shout' possibly stems from an Arabic word 'saut', said to be used by West African Muslim pilgrims to indicate the procession around the Kaaba [sacred Black Stone] in Mecca [Saudi Arabia].

Gershwin's friends discovered that the summer of 1934 spent on the Sea Islands was to the composer more like a homecoming than an exploration. The big city songs and the pulse of New York had found their counterpart in the haunting spirituals and body rhythms of the Gullah People. Gershwin had come under the spell of World Music, his masterworks 'Rumba' and 'Porgy and Bess' being the lasting reflection of it.

SUITE PORGY AND BESS GO LATIN - All compositions by George Gershwin.

All tracks arranged by Jan Laurens Hartong except nos. 2 & 6. 'Summertime' arranged by Ben van den Dungen. 'Bess, you is my woman now' arranged by Ben van den Dungen and Jarmo Hoogendijk.

BOUDEWIJN LUCAS Acoustic bass, bass guitar
LUCAS VAN MERWIJK Drums & percussion, bata drum (Itotele)
MARTIN VERDONK Tumbadora, quinto, chekere, bata drums (Yia ami Okoukole)
NILS FISCHER Timbales, conga's, bongo's and bata drums
guest; ALAOR SCARES Brazilian percussion

The following video features the group’s unique Overture to their Latin Jazz version of Porgy and Bess:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jerry Kalaf - "Welcome to Earth: Music for Trio and Sextet"

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Every so often, a CD comes along that reflects that sense of serenity that Jazz can evoke by emphasizing the quieting and peaceful effects of the music’s sonority.

Such a recording was released on January 23, 2015 by Jerry Kalaf, a rare combination of a sensitive drummer who is also a talented composer-arranger [Dennis Mackrell also comes to mind, here].

Jerry’s Welcome to Earth: Music for Trio and Sextet is on Palm Mountain Records [8 88174 88566 7] and you can find order information at and through online vendors including Amazon, iTunes and CDBaby.

The music on Welcome to Earth: Music for Trio and Sextet is the Jazz equivalent of a search for beauty and truth and as such it is an exploration that comes at the music in a way that is more gentle, introspective and probing. Jerry’s music gives you time to think; both while playing it and when listening to it.

In this regard, it’s most telling composition may be This One’s For Jim - a piece that’s dedicated to the late guitarist Jim Hall who epitomized a subtle, smooth, delicate and refined approach to the music.

If as Louis Armstrong maintained - “Jazz is who you are.” - then this music is Jerry Kalaf.

Given the exquisite and intricate style of Jazz being played on Welcome to Earth: Music for Trio and Sextet, one would have thought that flutist and reed man Gary Foster would have found a place on this date.

Instead, we find Gary contributing these insightful insert notes the the disc.

“Jerry Kalaf has been for many years a colleague from the "jazz wars," LA rehearsal bands, motion picture and recording orchestras, and many live performances.

In 1998, Jerry and I played on pianist Gerard Hagen's CD, "Far Horizons." An arrangement of "You and the Night and the Music" was constructed on the spot We decided for variety that the drums and saxophone would improvise a chorus without the bass and piano. As we played our thirty-two-measure moment, I heard Jerry Kalaf the composer for the first time. Instead of a rhythmic solo, Jerry was hearing and playing from a harmonic understanding of the song. We have smiled about that moment many times over the years.

The music presented here is a beautifully conceived and performed collection of Jerry's original compositions. The trio and sextet selections provide fine settings for the performers. Jerry's direct quote about the players heard here is perfect: “... with the exception of Gabe Davis, who is one of our new young artists here in LA, every musician on this recording goes way back with me." All are highly respected practitioners of what jazz great Lee Konitz calls "The Improvisers Art"

Featuring three different groups, the eight tracks on this recording elicit deeply personal responses from the musicians in how they approach Jerry's music. The stylistic contrast between "Ambiguity," "Moving On," and "See You Next Year" is dramatic. Listening to "See You Next Year" I made the note - Begs for a lyric!

Welcome To Earth joins Side Two, This Side Up, and Just Like Old Times as
excellent documentation of Jerry Kalaf s musical life.

- Gary Foster - Los Angeles - October 13th, 2014"

Holly Cooper and her fine team at Mouthpiece Music is handling the media distribution for the CD and she sent along another of her informative press releases which I have reproduced below to give you more information about Jerry and the musicians and music on the new CD.

Welcome To Earth, the newest release by Jerry Kalaf, showcases the diverse talents of this multi-faceted, in-demand musician. A composer, arranger, and drummer, Kalaf's music - both his compositions and his drumming - can be heard on hundreds of recordings and soundtracks.

Welcome To Earth comprises eight of Kalaf’s original compositions and features his long-time collaborators, who are some of the finest jazz musicians on the West Coast. The music is richly textured and lyrical, written with the individual styles of the musicians in mind and presented in a sextet and two different trio settings.

Kalaf states, "My approach to composing can be termed absolute rather than programmatic. In other words, I usually don't draw from sources outside the music. I don't have a specific subject matter or imagery in mind; rather, I'm concerned with melody, harmony, and rhythm. I often think of the names only after the piece is written."

Take, for example, Ambiguity. This is one of the three sextet pieces on this disc that features Doug Walter on alto sax, Barry Coates on guitar, Jeff Colella on piano, Gabe Davis on bass, Scott Breadman on percussion, and Kalaf on drums. It's based on three major 7th intervals that Kalaf incorporates throughout the tune, giving it an ambiguous harmonic but atmospheric feel, and, hence, its name.

Siyaya Samba and This One's For Jim are the other two sextet pieces. Siyaya Samba is a beautiful melody inspired by the Zimbabwean musical, dance and theatrical group Siyaya, that Kalaf met on a State Department sponsored tour of Africa. This One's For Jim, which Kalaf dedicates to Jim Hall, moves through different rhythmic concepts and was arranged to highlight the distinct solo styles of Colella, Coates, and Breadman.

Leonard Thompson on piano, Ryan McGillicuddy on bass, and Kalaf on drums perform together on The Jazz Answer, a tune inspired by Bill Evans. In this piece, every measure can be interpreted as having a new key center, creating a complex but very approachable harmonic feel.

This trio also performs together on Not Knowing, an Oliver Nelson inspired waltz that's reminiscent of "Stolen Moments" that Kalaf takes to a whole new place, and Welcome To Earth, which Kalaf titled for his new grandson. This tune is constructed in six bar phrases that grow increasingly more complex.

See You Next Year and Moving On feature Rich Ruttenberg on piano, Domenic Genova on bass, and Kalaf. As a composer, Kalaf cites Bill Evans as one of his inspirations, which is apparent on See You Next Year, a highly engaging jazz waltz with a Bill Evans vibe. Kalaf and Ruttenberg have worked together on many projects over the years, and in this piece, Kalaf wanted to capture Ruttenberg's languorous style, wherein the notes feel like they resonate longer than they actually do. Moving On, which Kalaf wrote specifically to end the CD, is a wonderful vehicle for Ruttenberg and gives the project a resting place and a sense of completion.

Jerry Kalaf grew up in Binghamtom, New York, but has been a long-time resident of Los Angeles. Welcome To Earth is his fourth CD as a leader. It follows Noche, which features all original music by Kalaf performed by five pianists and four bassists in different trio settings, and Just Like Old Times, another recording of Kalaf s original music, with Rich Ruttenberg, Tom Warrington on bass and string arrangements by Doug Walter. Trio Music is Kalafs first CD as a leader and showcases eight of his compositions and one jazz standard. Rich Eames is on piano and Tom Warrington and Eric Ajaye share the bass chair.

Although there are three different bands on this project, there is an overarching sensibility and tone created by Kalaf's gorgeous melodies and the strong backbone provided by his drumming. His compositional talents and affinity for his fellow musicians create a seamless framework for the interplay of their individual styles. The result is an elegant work that is both meditative and compelling.

Kalaf has toured and recorded with some of the biggest names in music, including Eddie Harris, Gary Burton, Gary Foster, Frank Strazzeri, Bill Mays, Bill Perkins, Jimmy Cleveland, The Pointer Sisters, Gregory Hines and Major Holley, among many others.

He has been active for many years in movie and television studios. His performances and compositions can be heard on literally hundreds of soundtracks, including Batman Forever, Captain America, Demolition Man, Heat, Girls, In Living Color, He's Just Not That Into You, and many, many more.

Kalaf is also a highly respected educator and teaches jazz percussion at the prestigious and highly selective Colburn School in Los Angeles. He's also a recording engineer with his own studio, Studio J, which specializes in trio recordings.

You can sample Kalaf’s work from Welcome To Earth on this Soundcloud audio-only track featuring Ambiguity.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jimmy Smith – Breaking New Ground [From The Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The late Frank Wolff, Alfred Lion's partner in Blue Note, wrote, "I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York— one week. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, the fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound that I had never heard before. The noise was shattering.”

I wanted to expand a bit upon an earlier posting about Jimmy Smith to underscore how great his accomplishment was in bringing Jazz to the Hammond B-3 organ.

You can gain some idea of the magnitude of Jimmy’s achievement from this 1964 Hammond Times  excerpt:

© -Hammond Times, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“I never did take lessons, just taught myself. First, I learned about the drawbars and what each one stood for. As time passed, I experimented trying out all the different sounds. Next came the presets. I tried them out too but I don't use them very much except when playing ballads or something sweet and soft. When it came to the foot pedals, I made a chart of them and put it on the wall in front of me so I wouldn't have to look down. My first method was just using the toe. In the earlier days I was a tap dancer so the transition to heel and toe playing was made without too much trouble. One thing I learned was that you have to have a relaxed ankle. I would write out different bass lines to try for different tempi in order to relax the ankle. One useful learning technique was to put my favorite records on and then play the bass line along with them to see if I could play the pedals without looking down and only occasionally using my chart on the wall. This worked out fine.

When you are properly coordinated, you get an even flow in the bass. Most often, organists are uneven in their playing of the pedals, heavy here and light there. Soon I was putting hands and feet together and achieving co-ordination. My first job with the organ was at a Philadelphia supper club, playing a duo with drums. It was here I began further experimentation with different drawbar settings and using different effects and dynamics. It was before these audiences that the Jimmy Smith sound evolved. People always ask me about this sound. This probably is best explained in my approach to the organ. While others think of the organ as a full orchestra, I think of it as a horn. I've always been an admirer of Charlie Parker, and I try to sound like him. I wanted that single-line sound like a trumpet, a tenor or an alto saxophone.”

And the following excerpt from Kenny Mathieson’s Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, 1954-1965 offers an even broader context in which to view Jimmy’s feat:

© -Kenny Mathieson/Canongate Books, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In musical terms, … Smith … is the key figure in the evolution of the Hammond organ as a jazz instrument.  As he says, the electric organ had been used in jazz before he first took it up, either on an occasional basis by the likes of Fats Waller and Count Basic, or more regularly by musicians like Glenn Hardman, Doggett, Buckner and Davis. It was Smith, though, who brought the instrument to genuine prominence in a series of recordings for Blue Note in the late 1950s, and established it as a central jazz voice rather than an occasional novelty. Given that he had no instruction, the speed with which he had mastered the instrument by the time of his recording debut early in 1956 was a formidable achievement in itself, regardless of when he started.

The Hammond B-3 organ offered several advantages to the jazz player. Waller and Basic had played and recorded on fixed pipe organs, but the Hammond was relatively portable, although anyone who has ever been lured into helping move one will know that relatively is the correct word. Laurens Hammond had begun manufacturing the instrument in Chicago in 1935, and used a system of rotating steel tone wheels and an electromagnetic pickup to generate both the notes and the additional overtone pitches controlled by the drawbars above the two sets of keyboards (technically, organ keyboards are know as 'manuals'). The introduction of the rotating Leslie speaker in the early 1940s, combined with developments in the Hammond itself (notably the introduction of a percussion stop), helped provide the instrument with its characteristic tremolo sound. Later innovations introduced more technically advanced electronic attributes which eventually led to the tone wheel system becoming obsolete, but the tone wheel models have a distinctive weight and character to their sound which is much sought after, and the Hammond B-3 has remained the classic instrument of choice for jazz players.

Smith achieved a new musical synthesis on the instrument, and took the playing techniques to unprecedented levels. He developed a style which allowed him to play walking bass lines with his feet on the pedals, while playing chordal accompaniment with his left hand, and fleet, single-line melodies (or additional chord punctuations) with his right. The freedom to supply his own independent bass lines obviated the need for a bass player, and he formed what would become the archetypal soul jazz unit in 1955, a trio with organ, guitar and drums (a saxophone, usually tenor, was the optional extra in the equation). His music brought together elements from bebop and swing with blues and rhythm and blues, while the Hammond, which was widely used in black churches, lent itself particularly well to the gospel elements which infused hard bop and especially soul jazz. The combination would prove irresistible. The organ trio flourished in black clubs and bars, and eventually became one of the most popular of all jazz formats.

He brought his trio to New York early in 1956, playing at Small's Paradise in Harlem and at the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, and left the city's jazz scene buzzing with tales of a new star in the making. Among the jaws dropping were those of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff of Blue Note, and the latter left a vivid verbal image of the experience (reprinted in the CD insert for The Best of Jimmy Smith: The Blue Note Years) to accompany his many photographs of the organist: 'Jimmy Smith was first with the mostest. I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York - one week. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, his fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound I had never heard before. The noise was shattering. A few people sat around, puzzled, but impressed.'

Blue Note lost no time in taking Smith into the studio for the first time in February, 1956, and made it clear that their new signing was something special, issuing his debut album under the emphatic title of A New Sound - A New Star: Jimmy Smith At The Organ. The first volume, with Thornel Schwartz on guitar and drummer Bay Perry, contained Smith's version of 'The Preacher' and a blistering version of that great jam session perennial, ‘Lady, Be Good', while Volume 2, recorded in March with Donald Bailey taking over the drum chair, opened with an even more famous version of Dizzy Gillespie's The Champ'. The best of this up-tempo material has a raw excitement which still shines through (the ballads are rather overwrought), while Smith's extraordinary facility is matched by a genuine improvisational flair. Schwarz sounds a shade uncomfort­able when soloing at these speeds, and comes across as rather tame by comparison with the pyrotechnics erupting from the organ.

At this point, Smith was still audibly influenced by Wild Bill Davis's big, hard-driving, rather ornate style, and is still gripped by the sheer sonic possibilities of the instrument's effects, sometimes to the point of overkill. He would evolve an even more distinctive and influential voice in the ensuing years, when he began to concentrate more specifically on the horn-influenced, single line approach to soloing which he made his own. When I asked him about influences, all of the players he cited were saxophonists   -Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas. Piano players, he said, 'can't give me the shit I need'.”

[Around 1963, Smith parted company with Blue Note] … leaving a legacy, which, while undeniably formulaic, had not only established him beyond any serious contention as the leading exponent of the Hammond B-3 in jazz, but had done much to lay the foundations of the soul jazz sub-genre. By the time he left, there were numerous organ players plying the same funky fare, but few of them were able to match up to Smith as jazz improvisers. Having established, and indeed patented, his style, Smith rarely departed much from it, but immediately set about varying the kind of settings in which his music had been presented when he joined his new label, Verve Records. Norman Granz had established the label as a major jazz imprint, but he had sold it to MGM in 1960, and the presiding influence at Verve in this period was producer Creed Taylor.”

Jimmy’s output for Verve was very uneven, but while  he was with the label he did make some interesting recordings with guitarist Wes Montgomery and some that placed him in a new, big band setting with imaginative and commercially appealing arrangements by Oliver Nelson.”

Michael Cuscuna offered a succinct synopsis of Jimmy Smith’s rise to celebrity status  in the Jazz world and his early years at Blue Note in the following insert notes to  Jimmy’s Cool Blues Blue Note CD [7243 5 35587 2 7]. They are reprinted below with his permission.

© - Michael Cuscuna, used with permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Jimmy Smith's story is an unusual one because he single-handedly intro­duced an instrument into the modern jazz mainstream and created a sound and a style to go with it. What is most unusual is that he did not even approach the instrument until he was 28 years old, and he did not play a gig under his own leadership or record an album until he was 29.

Born in NorristownPennsylvania on December 8, 1926, Jimmy studied piano from his father and later attended the Orenstein School of Music in Philadelphia for three years, studying piano, bass, harmony and theory. A succession of R&B gigs followed until 1955 when Smith began considering the possibilities of the electric organ, having been inspired by the work of Wild Bill Davis.

He made a deal with a Philadelphia organ dealer to play on one of their organs at one dollar an hour until he could afford to buy his own. When he did buy his own instrument, he housed it in a warehouse near his residence and worked out conscientiously everyday, systematically teaching himself the instrument's capabilities and possibilities.

After a year of sweat, he emerged with a style all his own and a facility that could be described as nothing less than complete virtuosity. He formed his first trio with guitarist Thornel Schwartz and drummer Bey Perry. Word of this phenomenon came up to New York via musicians such as pianist Freddie Redd who happened to catch Smith while traveling through Philly. A few initial gigs in New York, uptown at Small's Paradise and downtown at Cafe Bohemia, and this man playing organ was literally the talk of the town. Alfred Lion of Blue Note was quick to check him out and even quicker to sign him. And from his first sessions, which included "The Preacher" and "The Champ," Jimmy Smith's records were commercial ana artistic hits.

Smith recorded for Blue Note from February 1956 to February 1963. And the label put him in a variety of settings during those seven years. He recorded with his working trio, with singers Babs Gonzales and Bill Henderson, with rhythm section guests Kenny Burrell, Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones, in quartet setting with Lou Donaldson or Stanley Turrentine and with all star sextets that included Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Tina Brooks, Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd, Blue Mitchell, Jackie McLean, Ike Quebec and many others.

He seemed to shine most on live recordings and dates with an assem­blage or challenging horn men. In this album, we have both. Small's Paradise, the legendary Harlem club at 135th Street and 7th Avenue, has contributed to the history of jazz since the twenties. It has special significance to Smith and his relationship with Blue Note. The late Frank Wolff, Alfred Lion's partner in Blue Note, wrote, "I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York— one week. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, the fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound that I had never heard before. The noise was shattering. A few people sat around, puzzled, but impressed. He came off the stand, smiling, the sweat dripping all over him. 'So what do you think?' 'Yeah,' I said. That's all I could say. Alfred Lion had already made up his mind."

"It was in the cards," Wolff con­tinued, "that Jimmy would succeed. He had revamped the jazz organ and come up with a new sound. The sound has now been adopted by almost all jazz organists, but his style remains his own. Right from the start of his recording career, he was in full command of this very complex and demanding machine, the Hammond organ. Apart from his incredible technique, he had fire, feeling, beat, humor— all adding up to a highly personal style. Everything was there, everything was right when he did The Champ' and through the years so many other masterpieces. Jimmy Smith is a great artist— and a beautiful guy."”

Jimmy Smith reveled in the expanded soundscape provided by Oliver Nelson’s big band arrangements as you can hear in the following audio track with its evocative version of Walk on the Wild Side, Elmer Bernstein’s theme from the film of the same name.

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