Jimmy Smith - The Cat

Jimmy Smith The Cat (Verve 1964)

During the sixties organ star Jimmy Smith, who single-handedly turned the Hammond B3 organ into a viable modern jazz instrument in the mid-late fifties, recorded a string of generally very popular big band albums under the guidance of Verve’s succesful producer Creed Taylor.

Jimmy Smith - The Cat

Personnel

Jimmy Smith (organ), Kenny Burrell (guitar), George Duvivier (bass), Grady Tate (drums), Lalo Schifrin (arranger, conductor) and a big band including Thad Jones, Jimmy Cleveland, Ernie Royal and Snooky Young

Recorded

on April 27-29 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as V-8587 in 1964

Track listing

Side A
Theme From ‘Joy House’
The Cat (From The MGM Motion Picture ‘Joy House’)
Basin Street Blues
Main Title From ‘The Carpetbaggers’
Side B
Chicago Serenade
St. Louis Blues
Delon’s Blues
Blues In The Night


The first tentative effort, Bashin’ (side B was dedicated to trio work only) was an immediate smash hit. The best of those albums, like Hobo Flats, Any Number Can Win and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf involved meaty brass and reed support that stirred up the organist’s inimitable bebop and blues runs to fiery heights. A couple of albums suffered from mediocre, overproduced arrangements and the organist’s wish to put his ‘singing’ abilities in the limelight. Stay away from 1968’s Stay Loose would be my advice, unless you need to chase away the neighbour’s pet alligator.

1964’s The Cat finds Smith at the height of his popularity. The title track is what you’d call a mod classic. Meaning a bunch of English geeks got hip to it in the eighties and started spinning it in the big city’s burgeoning underground clubs, to much acclaim. Understandably, since The Cat’s a blast from start to finish, an uptempo swinger with a firm backbeat and full-bodied, sweeping Lalo Schifrin arrangements which are cut through by boiling Smith phrases.

Old warhorse Basin Street Blues is another highlight, taken at a brisk pace with funky Chicago blues support by drummer Grady Tate and sparse orchestral blasts. Theme From ‘Joy House’ and Main Title From ‘The Carpetbaggers’ are uptempo gems as well, more satisfying in the end than solid but more commonplace slow blues tunes like Delon’s Blues and Blues In The Night.

The Cat is part of the proof that, when in the right surroundings, Jimmy Smith raised the mixing of organ and orchestra to another level.

prayer1

Jimmy Smith Prayer Meetin’ (Blue Note 1964)

This is the Jimmy Smith I like the most. Not yet hindered by various concepts initiated by Verve’s Creed Taylor, which thrusted Smith into stardom. Some of those (big band) jobs were top-notch or fantastic, such as the collaborations with Wes Montgomery and Root Down, some of them mediocre, notably those that took Jimmy into singing (grunting) territory. Like Smith’s ‘hazardous-to-your-health faux pas from 1968, Stay Loose. Prayer Meetin’s the real deal: Jimmy Smith in full blues and gospel flight.

prayer1

Personnel

Jimmy Smith (organ), Stanley Turrentine (tenor sax), Quinten Warren (guitar), Donald Bailey (drums)

Recorded

on February 8, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs

Released

as BLP 4164 in 1964

Track listing

Side A
Side A:
Prayer Meetin’
I Almost Lost My Mind
Stone Cold Dead In The Market
Side B:
When The Saints Go Marching In
Red Top
Picknickin’


Fact is, Smith’s organ is a voice in itself; he don’t need no larynx. Jimmy Smith, applauded for what not, might best be described as a ‘talkin’ player. Here is a man who conveys uncluttered, basic emotions through B3 and Leslie speaker that sometimes eerily closely resemble the inflections of jazz vocals, albeit often in the tempo of a bop-oriented Speedy Gonzales.

The same thing, I might add, is true for tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, who has a really moving solo in the ballad I Almost Lost My Mind; there is a lot of ‘breath’ in his playing – maybe best described as the whispering of sweet words in someone’s ear – which assuredly gets to you. Surely these qualities make Smith and Turrentine such a good match on Prayer Meetin’, and on other recordings such as Back At The Chicken Shack as well.

Incidentally, during one prolific week prior to the session that resulted in Prayer Meetin’, Smith recorded three more albums. This way Smith fulfilled his Blue Note contract before leaving to Verve. (of course, Jimmy did make a couple of great albums for Verve; collaborations with Wes Montgomery and Root Down are cases in point.)

Jimmy Smith has a way of stimulating solo players. This is illustrated very well in Red Top, wherein Smith uses block chords and staccato, violent lines, creating fire hazard to Turrentine’s already cookin’ solo. Thereafter alarm clock attacks straight from Art Blakey’s book signal the end of the Turrentine line and Jimmy takes his place (and time) telling a story, pushing notes to the limit, utilizing a lot of repetition for further hypnotic effect.

Indeed, as a sermon Prayer Meetin’ is a redeeming exercise.