The Sermon: Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith The Sermon cover

Time to get going again! My last posting here was over three months ago. So, no excuses, time to get to work and get something new out.

The Sermon is a good place to start. Three tracks are taken from two recording dates in August 1957 and February 1958. This set was Smith’s fourteenth Blue Note release during a period from 1956 onwards when his Hammond organ albums were the label’s major cash cow. Indeed on hearing him play in Greenwich Village, Miles Davis told label boss and producer Al Lion, ‘Alfred, he’s going to make you a lot of money.’ He recorded no less than 10 sessions in 1957 alone. The Sermon is the second of two titles to be taken from the August 57/February 58 sessions with House Party being released first, in 1958.

My theory about the Hammond organ phenomenon is that in a time when live popular music was usually played in small venues without powerful amplification, the sudden introduction of this behemoth of an instrument created a new kind of live excitement. In the case of the Hammond, what is played in a small venue can extend beyond the aural to become something that is almost palpable. You can hit all the right notes on other instruments but it is the swells and trills of the mighty B3 organ, played at volume, that seem to me to have a tangible quality all of their own. My own instrument was the tenor sax (played very badly) and I love its sound but the Hammond does something that is very different. I’m not a keyboardist but I am aware that modern technology enables all sorts of sounds to be emulated but unless somebody invites me to a blindfold audition and convinces me that the contrary applies I’ll continue to believe that it is impossible to capture and faithfully replicate the sound of a Hammond and Leslie speaker. Of course, this is an invitation for any of you out there to tell me that this is nonsense and prove your case with suitable sonic illustration.

The title track, one of two JS original compositions here, is a tribute to Horace Silver and opens with a long opportunity for Jimmy Smith to stretch out and develop his ideas before the baton is passed to the great Kenny Burrell. A typically tasteful laid back exploration follows, somehow so appropriate for the lazy Sunday morning that I’m writing this on. Then it’s over to Tina Brooks, whose mellow mid-register tenor saxophone adds a deliciously sour texture for an extended solo. Jimmy Smith sends out long note signals for Brooks to wind up, but they are ignored because Tina’s really blowing the blues here. His solo ends and is followed by a couple of words that I cannot quite make out, but which sound like appreciative ones. Over to Lee Morgan which contains punchy staccato notes and a longer run. Lou Donaldson’s solo is another masterful contribution to the whole before the ensemble briefly reappear and Jimmy Smith gleefully leads us to the fade. Art Blakey plays drums with understated power but no solo here.

On the sleeve notes to the RVG CD edition, Bob Blumenthal reminds us that the recent introduction of the 12 inch long playing record allowed musicians the space to record with more space to develop ideas and less need to limit a recording to the shorter length which was the previous limit of what could be captured and released in earlier 10″ 78 rpm disc format. Although some, so-called, blowing sessions could sound self-indulgent, The Sermon uses the extended period to great effect. You can hear the full track from YouTube via the following link:-

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J.O.S. was recorded during the previous year, in the August of 1957 with George Coleman (alto sax), Eddie McFadden (guitar) and Donald Bailey (drums) rather than the greater stellar magnitude of Burrell, Blakey and Donaldson. It is a pacy outing with a fluent alto solo from Coleman. Jimmy Smith signals the end of this with what Ira Gitler’s original sleeve notes liken to a musical buzzer. He later becomes increasingly insistent that Morgan should end his solo but Morgan is in full flow and wisely ignores a full four blasts to offer another fine chorus. McFadden’s guitar picking is deft and delightful before the session leader duly takes the last solo.

Flamingo is from the February 1958 session, although Brooks and Donaldson sit out. It starts with a beautiful statement of the theme on Morgan’s trumpet before it is swapped to Burrell and then taken back again. There’s a sense of smoochy luxuriance here- the sort of ballad that you have to be in the right sort of mood for and a bit too MOR for some ears. It was written in 1940 by Ted Grouya and Edmund Anderson, with Duke Ellington as an early performer before Earl Bostic too it to the top of the R&B charts in 1951. Miles Davis would have done it differently and played half as many notes but Morgan’s own greatness shines through.

I’ve struggled with this review, which suggests that I don’t regard this as the essential Jimmy Smith set that the newcomer should seek out immediately. However, it does have its charms and delights.

With a writing block dispensed with, I’m away out of the traps again with lots of ideas about what is to follow. Thanks for visiting downwithit.info

The band etc:- Jimmy Smith (Hammond organ); Tina Brooks (tenor sax); George Coleman (alto sax); Lou Donaldson (alto sax); Lee Morgan (trumpet); Kenny Burrell (guitar); Eddie McFadden (guitar); Art Blakey (drums); Donald Bailey (drums). Recorded 25 August 1957 and February 25 1958. Produced: Al Lion; Manhattan Towers, New York City. Sleeve Notes: Ira Gitler. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note BLP 4011.

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