Almost 20 years ago, I went to the San Francisco Jazz Festival. I had gotten into Jazz, and this was the first time I had ever seen one of the greats live. Jimmy Smith had been promoting his release Damn!, and was to appear outside on Folsom Street with his band. Out walks Jimmy, in a pink suit jacket. The man had more swagger than any rapper today that boasts his swag is all that. He sits down at the Hammond and before he went on to absolutely kill it, exclaimed: “Just so you know, this is music for black folks.” I knew that I was about to witness one of the best Jazz organists that had ever played. Although he was up there in the years, he commanded that stage like it was the early years and ran through originals and covers with the fervor of the young player that dominated the Jazz scene. He has won down beat polls, toured continuously, and was one of the greats to spearhead the organ sound of Jazz music. I knew I had a photo of the man, but didn’t know where it was, and after digging through a bunch of old photos I found it. It’s a bit blurry, I may have had a few of the Twenty Tank Brewery beers in me while watching, but don’t hold that against me.
“ Well, what’s wrong with leveling off at the top of the heap? Genius sounds like a nice plateau to stay on. ” – Jimmy Smith down beat Magazine October 15th, 1970
Although Jimmy Smith had been accused of selling out at the end of the 60’s, a la Miles Davis, he claimed that he wasn’t selling out, but merely keeping up with the younger players when he changed directions to all ballad, funky Soul Jazz, or an all Rock record. It was an already established fact that he was a genius on that organ, and his hiatus from recording things like Walk On the Wild Side, The Cat, Virginia Woolf, etc. to simply tour and also to record a record like Respect, showed other sides of the man from Norristown, PA. One side was the open mind of a man who was at the top of his game trying to broaden his horizons and be the first to dominate that sector of the genre. Do you know what? He did. Working with everyone from Quincy Jones to Sinatra to Michael Jackson in his later years, it was very obvious that his opening up the Jazz bag he had made, gave him the respect his deserved. Here’s the title track from the 1967 Verve record Respect as we pay tribute to the man, who was the epitome of cool behind that organ, influencing more Jazz organ players than anyone in the game. Here’s a quote from Mr. Smith that sums up his swagger: “I’m a Saggitarius, you know. I’ll do whatever I think is right and I don’t give a shit what others think or say. I’m a genius. I am the artist people have to respect.”
Photo Courtesy of FMF Archives