The Reverend Jimmie N Davina Smith, a native of Buffalo, NY, is a man blessed with musical talent and timbre. The gentleman publicly pays tribute to the late Jimmy Smith, one of his biggest influencers on the Hammond organ, on his new album. The release on Woodward Avenue Records is entitled Live in Music City: Jimmie Smith Plays Jimmy Smith.
The disc was expertly produced and mixed by Grammy nominated producer Brother Paul Brown, himself a master of the Hammond organ.
Kudos also to the mastering of the recording by Kevin Nix. The basic lineup for the live performance recorded before an enthusiastic audience at the cozy Rutledge Theater in Nashville, TN consists of Rev. Jimmie N Davina Smith on Hammond B3, James DaSilva on guitar, Hamilton Hardin on bass, and Marcus Finnie on drums. Jimmie Smith’s song selections for the gig were cream-of-the-crop choice quality picks.
Jimmy Smith was born James Oscar Smith on December 8, 1928 in Norristown, Pennsylvania some six short miles from the Philadelphia city limits. Jimmy played piano at an early age, but didn’t attempt the B-3 until he was 28 years old.
Along with his contemporaries John Patton, Jimmy McGriff, “Brother” Jack McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, and Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Jimmy Smith brought wider acceptance of the B-3’s role in “soul/jazz” (where jazz, blues, and gospel congregate) beginning in the mid-fifties and carrying on through the sixties and well beyond. It is estimated that Jimmy Smith made more than one hundred albums (a lot of them currently out of print), many of them for the Blue Note and Verve Record labels before his passing away in 2005.
“Jimmy Smith was one of the greatest and most innovative musicians of our time. I loved the man and I love the music. He was my idol, my mentor and my friend.” ~Joey DeFrancesco
The opening cut “The Cat” was a title track from 1964 on Verve Records. The composition was written by Lalo Schifrin, who endowed the album with a big band arrangement. Smith did some great Hammond B-3 on the track. The remainder of musicians included Grady Tate was on drums, Kenny Burrell on guitar, George Duvivier on double-bass, along with a swinging slew of talented horn men. On “The Cat” during the Rutledge show Jimmie’s Sk-2 is smoking hot laying down fat chords on the top along with superb fluid fingering organ solos as drummer Marcus Finnie keeps up marvelously. The horn section truly show their merit in this near six minute workout and guitarist DaSilva adds some bracing work.
“Midnight Special” was the groovin’ title track of a Jimmy Smith album released in 1960 on the Blue Note Label and featured Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, Kenny Burrell on guitar, and Donald “Duck” Bailey on drums. That same session yielded one of Smith’s most popular recordings Back at the Chicken Shack. The original “Midnight Special” was a nine minute treat. Here on this new release Smith and company stretch it out even longer and the track includes plenty of breathing room for the members to produce memorable solos. Also included herein are plenty of sizzling interjections from the dynamic horn section of Chris West on tenor sax, Jon-Paul Frappier on trumpet, and Chris Dunn on trombone.
“The Sermon” is possibly the most well-known of all Jimmy Smith songs. This night the song featured a notable guest appearance from Lansing, Michigan’s Jim Alfredson. Passionately teaming together Alfredson and Jimmie Smith demonstrate some extremely satisfyingly flowing and cascading organ runs. The rhythm section is on point and the horns chime in nicely. A small sampling of James Brown’s “I Feel Good” is deftly tacked on at the song’s end. Jim Alfredson comes from a musical family. His father earned a living as a professional musician for many years and encouraged Jim’s musical talents from a very young age. Some of Jim’s earliest memories include pulling on the drawbars of his father’s Hammond B-3 at the age of four.
“The Hammond B-3 is my instrument of choice, and what we call “the box” or “the beast” because of its size. It’s one of those things that is easy to play, but hard to master.” ~ Jim Alfredson
“Jimmy Smith played bluesy, soulful, funky jazz. If the music doesn’t have the blues in it, I’m not interested.” ~ Jim Alfredson
“When I hit my teens my dad found me a Hammond M-3 organ, and he also gave me an album by Jimmy Smith. That record blew my mind and got me pointed toward jazz.” ~ Jim Alfredson
Another Jimmy Smith title track played and recorded that night was “I Got My Mojo Workin’.” That track was on a 1966 Verve Records release and also had the great Kenny Burrell on guitar, George Duvivier on double-bass, and Grady Tate manning the drum kit with his usual hard bop and soul jazz flair on a song that cooked for over 8 minutes. All three members strutted their stuff and Jimmy got his “roogalator” on big time in a semi-rare vocal reading. The song was a featured staple in Smith’s later concert sets due to its broad audience approval. This night at the Rutledge, Jimmie and the gang are just a smidgen more restrained, but Jimmie’s vocal is satiny smooth and takes us to church. The brass excels on this track and give it a hard-bop bluesy posture. DaSilva’s guitar is sweet, much like Wes Montgomery apostle George Benson, and so very musically sophisticated.
Like Jimmie states just before the song’s end “I was feelin’ that!” To that comment I say … “Amen.”
“I was thinking about when I first met Rev. Jimmie Smith and heard him lay his hands on the Hammond B3. About how the live show went down on tape that night and all the mixing afterward what I always found and still find striking is (a.) What a departure Jimmie’s approach to playing live jazz on Hammond is to any other Jazz Hammond show/live recording I’ve ever heard. Somehow, through having many of his Holy Spirit filled church members including his eighty-three-year-old grandma drive all the way from Atlanta to Nashville to help fill this otherwise secular nightclub, Jimmie managed to fuse everything I love about witnessing a killer Hammond jazz concert with the raw super-charged energy of a Holy Ghost stomp church service! And (b.) The honesty in which Jimmie plays, writes, speaks and sings. It is because of those departures that this album will surely always stand as one of my all-time favourite albums to have worked on.” ~ Bro Paul Brown
The knowledgeable producer Bro Paul Brown joins Jimmie and plays piano and organ on a truly funky version of “Root Down.” The great Jimmy Smith was extremely energetic, and Brown is so bouncingly animated one can tell he is highly jazzed up to be there. DaSilva serves up some fuzz-toned laden guitar licks for good measure as Jimmie Smith bops like a red rooster on steroids on his Hammond.
Bro Paul Brown makes another stellar guest appearance on the lovely peaceful gospel tune “Oh, Happy Day.” The song, originally an eighteenth century hymn that was updated in the late sixties by Edwin Hawkins has an uplifting power that cannot be denied. It begins with a relaxing mellow tone and the dynamics build and drop again.This celebration of faith is performed with an expansive spirit that is inspirational to say the least.
“Jimmie Smith pays tribute to a legend, the late and great Jimmy Smith and lights up the B3 with his band to bring a fresh approach to a classic. This will surely make people notice this corner of a very special art form of Blues, Jazz.” ~ Tony Braunagel, Grammy Winning Drummer, Producer
“Get Yourself A College Girl” contains a snippet of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” just before James DaSilva takes flight on a beautiful guitar voyage over top of the jazzy drumming of Finnie. Frappier’s trumpet brings us back to solid ground with a masterful solo before it’s again time for Jimmie’s soulfully feathery touch on the Hammond keys to bring us back to “Johnny.” Jimmy Smith’s “I Really Love My Hammond” effectively tells the detailed story of a musician’s affection for his beloved instrument. Much like B.B. King had his “Lucille,” George Harrison his “Lucy,” and Willie Nelson his “Trigger,” the late, great Smith loved his Hammond enough to write a song for her. James DaSilva provides a soulful guitar lead that adds a cherry to the top of the ensemble’s musical cake. The song’s second half features an expressively heart-felt guest vocal from Bishop Dr. Jeronn C Williams.
The final song on the performance is an original song written for his father by Jimmie Smith. His father passed from a battle with cancer twelve years ago and was the impetus for the writing of the song “Only God Can.” Jimmie provides a beautiful vocal to accompany his somber organ with lyrics that show his absolute devotion to The Lord Above. Both the organ, the sincere vocal, and the worshipful sentiment contained herein are reminiscent of Billy Preston and his great song “That’s The Way God Planned It.”
Live in Music City: Jimmie Smith Plays Jimmy Smith is a truly exquisite tribute album that shows why Jimmy Smith was such a master of his domain. This show marvelously captured the musicians and the enraptured audience surfing a wondrous wave of musical and spiritual joy.
Jimmie Smith carries the torch of Jimmy Smith with such a profoundly deep respect it would surely have made the late Smith extremely pleased and proud.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com