Use These to Time-Travel Back to a Bygone Age of Corner Taverns

Oh, to go back to those days of the ‘50s and ’60s, when jazz organ trios ruled the corner taprooms. You know the décor – wornout wooden floors, Schlitz beer signs, creaky vinyl barstools, a little spot under the rabbit-eared TV for the band. The road warriors of the genre -- Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Scott, Richard “Groove” Holmes -- were blues and boogaloo specialists who knew how to electrify their surroundings. They made jazz that doesn’t make your brain hurt, greasy feelgood grooves that could percolate for ten or twenty minutes no problem. There’s some of this wonderful stuff in 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die – see Smith’s classic Back at the Chicken Shack, pg. 717-718 – but probably not enough. That’s because these musicians were far more interesting live than in the studio, and because the records each made are very similar. Below, a handful of jazz-organ titles that might just transport you to the taverns of a bygone age…

  • Groove Holmes: After Hours (1962, Pacific Jazz) and On Basie’s Bandstand (Prestige, recorded 1966, release 2003). Two glimpses of the most underappreciated demon of the organ, the first a boppish date with Joe Pass, the second a blistering live performance recorded by Rudy Van Gelder at Count Basie’s club in Harlem. Cue up the freakishly fast “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” to hear Holmes make the Hammond B3 fly.
  • Shirley Scott: Queen of the Organ (1964, Impulse!). It took gumption for a woman to thrive in the “boy’s club” of jazz in the 1960s, and Shirley Scott had plenty. She brings fury and finesse to this Newark club gig from 1964, with then-husband Stanley Turrentine on tenor. Everything moves with a calm, easy-swinging demeanor.
  • Jack McDuff and Gene Ammons: Brother Jack Meets the Boss (1962, OJC). This sparkling summit features Jack McDuff, who had a distinctively percussive organ attack, and tenorman Gene Ammons, a master of soulful and perpetually unhurried saxophone.
  • Don Patterson: Dem New York Dues (1969, Prestige). Don Patterson was another unsung organ titan, a daredevil who’d interpolate tricky bebop runs into otherwise ordinary blues. This burning session features tenormen George Coleman and Houston Person, and the great guitarist Pat Martino.
  • Danny Gatton, Joey DeFrancesco: Relentless (1994, Big Mo). Joey DeFrancesco gets credit for upholding (and at times extending) the jazz organ tradition. But on this fantastic blowing session, it’s the late guitarist Danny Gatton who revitalizes the formulas, by lunging outside of blues convention in ways that challenge DeFrancesco. Every chorus is a new adventure.

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#1 from Matt, New York, NY - 09/03/2008 11:43

Excellent call on the Groove Holmes album; regretfully, it has been out of print for some time.  Though of a different era and prone to experimentations of the sort that might generally preclude their suitability for mention here, I recommend for listeners the two albums recorded by contemporary organ trio Medeski, Martin & Wood with guitarist John Scofield: “A Go Go” (1998, cataloged for Scofield) and “Out Louder” (2006, an MMW release), which both groove like hell and contain some of the most appealing work recorded by either entity in their entire respective catalogs.

As for Jimmy Smith I’ll admit to being disappointed in seeing “Chicken Shack” as the lone entry in the book.  Fine though it is, I’m firmly of the opinion that Smith’s best work is found elsewere; namely, the unbelievably great double-disc “Groovin at Small’s Paradise” (1957, Blue Note), which captures Smith in the live setting in which he is best appreciated.  It was brought back into circulation in a well-remastered edition in 1999 and the generous running time makes it the perfect introduction to the artist.  However, the best album on which Smith appears is, in my opinion, his fiery 1966 summit meeting with guitarist Wes Montgomery, “The Dynamic Duo.” A swan song of sorts for both artists, it is one of the greatest and best-loved mainstream jazz albums of the sixties, and I was sorry to see that it did not make the book. 

Lastly, though it represents Smith in a different capacity, there is the classic early-‘70s funk of “Root Down” so enthralled the members of the Beastie Boys that it induced them to learn to properly play instruments and record numerous homages during the first half of the ‘90s.

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