Philly na­tive a master of the Ham­mond B3

North Penn Life - - Opinion -

When the in­ven­tor Lau­rens Ham­mond was awarded the Franklin In­sti­tute’s John Price Wetherill Medal in 1940 for mas­ter­fully cre­at­ing the Ham­mond elec­tric or­gan, he prob­a­bly could not have pre­dicted that it would one day be­come cen­tral to the novel jazz-soul-funk sound of Jimmy Smith, the “in­cred­i­ble” African-Amer­i­can or­gan­ist from Norristown.

Af­ter all, when Smith was only about 6 years old, HDPPRQG KDG LQ 1934 fiOHG a patent for the in­stru­ment, then uniquely ca­pa­ble of mak­ing a va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal sounds, with the help of an Epis­co­pal or­gan­ist back in Illi­nois, where he had by age 14, de­signed an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion for au­to­mo­biles. In fact, Ham­mond was des­tined to in­vent a noise­less spring-driven clock, as well as an early form of 3D glasses and a “poly­phonic” syn­the­sizer, just sev­eral of the 90 patents KH fiOHG Ey WKH WLPH KH GLHG in 1973, ac­cord­ing to a va­ri­ety of on­line sources.

vet, one of his most ex­tra­or­di­nary in­ven­tions that a young man, James lscar Smith, would fall in love with was the Ham­mond B3, an in­stru­ment that jazz im­pre­sario Fats Waller ear­lier mas­tered, ac­cord­ing to The Washington Post. Smith, af­ter dis­cov­er­ing the in­stru­ment’s ver­sa­til­ity, found an empty Philadel­phia ware­house, ac­cord­ing to sources, and was able to morph the B3’s sounds ex­po­nen­tially in a va­ri­ety of heav­enly ways that he once de­scribed as “thun­der and light­ning!”

The ma­tur­ing young man, a ge­nius in his own right, tapped into the Ham­mond’s deep core to cre­ate a new mu­sic genre with a spirit that could soothe, in­sti­gate and even in­spire soul­ful jovi­al­ity via un­sur­passed key­board dex­ter­ity. With KLV wKLUOLQJ fiQgers hit­ting the white and black keys, Smith could al­most catch the HDPPRQG RQ fiUH.

Born Dec. 8, 1928, (de­pend­ing on the source), Jimmy, at just 9 years old, en­tered and won a boo­giewoo­gie pi­ano con­test hosted by a Philly ra­dio sta­tion, a forecast of great things to come.

Even­tu­ally, Smith’s wiz­ardry on the or­gan earned him the ti­tles of “Em­peror of the Ham­mond B-3 lr­gan” and the “in­cred­i­ble Jimmy Smith,” as he cre­ated that new genre of mu­sic fus­ing el­e­ments of rhyth­mand-blues and jazz with a good dose of “funk.”

And although I had fum­bled around on a mul­ti­key­board or­gan as a grade­school stu­dent at the nearby oowen Ele­men­tary in West lak Lane, where I took lessons af­ter reg­u­lar school hours dur­ing the mid-1960s, you can bet my sound was ab­so­lutely wretched com­pared to Jimmy Smith’s.

That dude was a Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts’ Jazz Master, Amer­ica’s “high­est honor in jazz,” ac­cord­ing to the Post, whose pro­tégés in­cluded WKH PDJQL­fiFHQW Jimmy Mc­driff and Joey DeFrancesco, both in­cor­po­rat­ing Smith’s up-tempo style at con­certs as near as the Keswick The­ater in dlen­side.

Af­ter be­ing dis­charged in 1947 from the Navy where he played the bass and pi­ano, an in­stru­ment he learned from his fa­ther mu­si­cian, Smith used the dI Bill to at­tend the renowned Hamil­ton and lrn­stein mu­sic schools in Philly, fo­cus­ing again on the bass and pi­ano.

Af­ter hear­ing Wild Bill Davis play­ing, Smith was com­pletely sold on the or­gan, per­ma­nently tak­ing up that in­stru­ment in 1954. He’d start his own Philadel­phia trio in 1955 be­fore de­but­ing at Club Bo­hemia and Bird­land in New vork and even­tu­ally the New­port Jazz Fes­ti­val.

It wasn’t long be­fore Blue Note oecords’ Al­fred Lion heard Smith play­ing in Philly and signed him, lead­ing to the clas­sic al­bums, “A New Star: Jimmy Smith at the lr­gan” and “The Champ,” with Jimmy along the way pick­ing up the ti­tle, “The In­cred­i­ble Jimmy Smith.” He re­port­edly recorded 30 al­bums for Blue Note, leav­ing there in 1962. He then signed to the serve la­bel, record­ing with the likes of de­orge Ben­son, Stan­ley Tur­ren­tine, Lee Mor­gan, BB King and Etta James, just to name a few.

He col­lab­o­rated too with such pop­u­lar mu­si­cians as nuincy Jones, Frank Si­na­tra and Michael Jack­son.

The mar­tial-arts prac­ti­tioner mar­ried his beloved wife, Lola, and they had sev­eral chil­dren, as well as opened a club in Cal­i­for­nia be­fore mov­ing in 2004 to Scotts­dale, Ariz., where she passed away.

Jimmy Smith was found life­less by his man­ager, oobert Clay­ton, ap­par­ently dy­ing in his sleep of “nat­u­ral causes” on Feb. 8, 2005, wip­ing out plans to go on a na­tional tour and pro­mote a new al­bum, “Legacy,” for Con­cord oecords.

The “Em­peror” was en­shrined at Me­rion Me­mo­rial Park ceme­tery in Bala Cyn­wyd, the same place where my ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents are rest­ing, per­haps with a bit of toe-tap­ping and spir­ited or­gan jams to help pass the time away.

Don ‘Og­be­wii’ Scott, a Mel­rose Park res­i­dent, can be reached at dscott9703@ aol.com.

A Place in His­tory Don­ald Scott

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