It should never be too surprising when a 79-year-old dies, but there was at least a touch of surprise mixed in with my sadness when I learned that the great Jimmy Smith passed away on Tuesday. When I last saw him perform, a few years ago at the Jazz Cafe in London, he still came across as an unstoppable life force, full of energy and youth, and I was looking forward to hearing him play next month at the Iridium.
Smith was the great pioneer of the Hammond B3 organ and he made an orchestra out of the instrument, playing bass lines with his feet, chords with his left hand, lead with his right. But, always a generous spirit, he was also a great collaborator. One of Smith's most successful partnerships was with saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, and their record "Prayer Meetin'" was a favorite to put on while cleaning up after dinner when I was growing up. It's smoky, laid-back soul jazz, music you could only appreciate at night. The title track (download from iTunes), a Smith original, is my favorite. Turrentine's solo is wall-to-wall blues clichis cut and pasted together with counterintuitive grace. Smith's is masterfully simple, ever-so-slightly harmonically subversive, and, as always, oh so funky. And it always made washing the dishes more fun. And funky. R.I.P.