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US Jazz organist Jimmy Smith dies at 79

Thursday, February 10, 2005

US Jazz organist Jimmy Smith dies at 79

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (AP) - Jimmy Smith, an award-winning jazz organist who was considered a pioneer on the instrument, has died of natural causes at his home. He was 79.

Smith's death Tuesday in Scottsdale was announced by officials at Concord Records.

"Jimmy Smith transformed the organ into a jazz instrument. Jazz has lost a pioneering talent, not to mention a one-of-a-kind personality,'' National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia said Wednesday.

Last month, Smith was honored by the NEA as one of the recipients of its 2005 Jazz Masters Award recognising exceptional contributions to jazz.

The citation said he "raised the organ - specifically the legendary Hammond B3 ... from a novelty instrument in jazz to primary status.''

Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, in 1925, Smith ruled the Hammond B-3 organ in the 1950s and 1960s, fusing R&B, blues, and gospel influences with bebop references.

As a child, Smith learned piano both from his parents and on his own. After being discharged from the Navy, he attended the Hamilton School of Music in 1948 and Ornstein's School of Music from 1949-50.

He started playing the Hammond organ in 1951, and practiced in a warehouse for nearly a year.

Inspired by such leading horn players as Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins as well as pianists such as Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and Bud Powell, he cut the tremolo on his organ off and began playing horn lines with his right hand.

He also created a new organ registration in an attempt to capture Garner's sound.

Smith's growing reputation led to his New York debut at the Cafe Bohemia. A date at the Birdland club and an appearance at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival launched his international career as the top jazz organist.

Smith had a major impact on the hard bop movement when he began recording for the Blue Note label in 1956, defining the modern organ-guitar-drums combo by playing fast tempo bebop lines.

Smith's sessions with Blue Note through 1963 included collaborations with Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, Jackie McLean, Ike Quebec and Stanley Turrentine.

Smith also recorded for the Verve label from 1963 to 1972, including sessions with guitarist Montgomery and in big bands with arrangements by Oliver Nelson.

His recording career spanned six decades, and in 2001 he came out with two new recordings, the blues projects "Fourmost Return'' and "Dot Com Blues.''

In recent years, the Hammond B3 has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, and Smith became an inspiration to younger organists.

"Jimmy was one of the greatest and most innovative musicians of our time,'' said fellow Hammond B-3 artist Joey DeFrancesco. "He was my idol, my mentor and my friend.''

The two recently recorded an album together called "Legacy,'' which is scheduled to be released on the Concord label next week. - AP

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