Organ Grinder Swing // Jimmy Smith (Verve V-8628)

After a long hiatus, I’m back! For my last post of the year and decade, I thought about doing something special, but I couldn’t think of anything good. So instead, I decided to spotlight some of the newer albums that I’ve bought this month that I’ve been spinning almost nonstop. First up, an album by a musician that people either love or hate and one that I’m surprised I haven’t written about yet. I’m talking about The Incredible Jimmy Smith. Haters beware: The music on this album is dangerous. It may convert you to a *gasp* JIMMY SMITH FAN?!?!

The Music

The Tune: “Greensleeves”
Recorded: 14-15 June, 1965 at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

  • Jimmy Smith – Organ
  • Kenny Burrell – Guitar
  • Grady Tate – Drums

The Tune: “Satin Doll”
Recorded: Same as above
Personnel: Same as above

When Jimmy Smith moved to Verve after his stint with Blue Note Records, he made a string of commercially-successful albums with his trio surrounded by big bands. There may have been a track or two with just his trio, but they were always offset with big band charts. Consequently, Smith didn’t have much time to truly stretch out and play. The fact that it was just a trio on this album piqued my interest. Kenny Burrell and Grady Tate? Heck yeah, you can’t go wrong with those guys.

When I first put this album on the turntable and dropped the needle, the music hit me like a ton of bricks. Ok, maybe not immediately. The first track is kind of hokey and commercial-oriented, like they were trying too hard for a radio-friendly hit. I don’t know if they got their hit, but it has a little bit of swing in its 135 seconds of music. The real sparks begin to fly from the second tune on. Starting with a yell from Smith as he calls the take number and someone else in the studio howls in good-natured fun, Smith begins to noodle around on the organ while interjecting his vocal musings the whole time. His soulful ramblings eventually morph into a down-home blues that saunters down the street with such a groove that I’m sure everyone in the studio was doing a little jig. This spontaneous groove unfolds for nine glorious minutes, with Kenny Burrell wailing away on the guitar while Grady Tate expertly builds and caresses the beat. It’s an excellent track and a beautiful performance.

The album continues with an upbeat blues with a rather quirky melody, and then the side is over. But the sparks are now turning into a flame.

“Greensleeves” was the number that stopped me in my tracks and caused me to sit in front of the speakers and just listen. The opening riff and the sheer exuberance caught me off guard. No disrespect to Mr. Smith but the arrangement sounded a lot more sophisticated and modern than what I was used to hearing from him. It’s in a fluidly dancing waltz time and features some modal improvising that would make Coltrane proud. Burrell simmers along, paving the way for Smith. Smith goes nuts, showing that he was just as hip and modern as the newer jazz sounds that were becoming more prevalent as 1965 wore on. The last tune on the album, “Satin Doll”, has a groove so fierce I pulled a muscle in my neck from bobbing my head to hard. It’s a no-frills outing on Duke Ellington’s piece but these guys turn it into a hard-swinging affair with lots of heat.

I have to admit that although I have a few of Jimmy Smith’s albums, I’ve slept on him and his music for a while. I knew he was an innovator and all that, but this album woke me up. Maybe its because of the paired-down combo format that Smith chose, or the presence of Kenny Burrell and Grady Tate, but this album shows just how potent Smith could be in the right setting. I made the observation earlier that this was the first time I made a post about Jimmy Smith, but I’m glad that my first post is on this album. This record is pure heat. Mucho fuego.

The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: B-

The photograph of Smith mid-performance in the studio is fantastic. The angle, the shadows, the color, all make for an arresting depiction of the artist and his music. Where Verve dropped the ball is the way they framed it with the red blocks and then added the large, clunky type above it. It’s not terrible, but they could’ve used the entire photograph and then put slimmer type in the blackness of the right corner. The impact would have been just as great if not greater. They could take some lessons from Blue Note.

The Inside

This is one of Verve’s glorious gate-fold albums, complete with Creed Taylor’s signature. The liner notes, written by Chicago’s Holmes Daddy-O Daylie, are some of the most successfully-hip liners I’ve ever seen. Unpretentious, honest, and straight-to-the-point, they’re a wonderful model of how to write liners. Some of my favorite lines are:

“OK, since you’re reading these notes, you are either already an “Old Aware One,” hip to Jimmy Smith, or a neophyte-come-lately trying to get acquainted; if so, congratulations!”

“You may very well be enraptured by this side in a penthouse in Paris, dressed for dinner, or while waiting for the bar-b-que in “Bronzeville”.

“… Jimmy Smith now returns to reconsider a source that he never forgot, back (for the record) to the nitty-gritty, the smallest, most basic unit in recording – the trio. The older more aware ones, who remember the beginning, and groovy old tunes like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, will really dig these roots, the return of Public Organ Grinder Number One to a more intimate aggregation.”

Greensleeves is Old English, New American cookin’ and tasty. Savor it as Kenny Burrell cooks on guitar while Grady Tate eggs him on.”

Daylie concludes with this gem: “Without Organ Grinder Swing your record collection will ne’er be perfection.” There you have it.

The Back

The hole in the bottom indicates the record was sitting around and was finally being sold for a severe discount, a practice record companies and even record stores employed to move product. Hard to imagine this just sitting around, but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

The Vinyl

Despite being pressed and released in 1965, the vinyl is deep groove on both sides. I’ve seen numerous examples of Verve records being deep groove as late as 1966. I’m not sure why or if there’s any significance to this. The labels look crisp and beautiful. “VAN GELDER” is stamped into the runnout wax on both sides, but listening to the recording would’ve told us who was behind the engineering knobs and dials. My copy is in glorious mono, and it’s punchy and full of life. The vinyl is in great condition and doesn’t seem to have been played much. Score for me.

The Place of Acquisition

Two weeks ago, I hit up my favorite record store, good old Vertical House here in Huntsville for the last time in this decade. I was going specifically to get some more clear plastic sleeves for my records, but naturally I wandered over to the jazz section and started looking. I walked away with a handful of records, this being one of them. I had never heard of it before, so I was intrigued. I was hesitant until I saw that it was strictly a trio record. The vinyl and cover looked clean and it was only $8, so I chanced it. I’m glad I did. It’s been on my turntable constantly since I brought it home. Happy New Year everyone!

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