Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith

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February 8, 2005 (Age 79) died

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December 8, 1925 Birthday

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Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S. Birthplace

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Jimmy Smith was an influential jazz musician who popularized the Hammond B-3 organ and helped create the soul-jazz sound. By using the organ to play lines typically performed by horn players while playing the bass line and chords with his left hand, Smith changed the role of the organ in jazz ensembles. After starting his career in Philadelphia, he was signed to Blue Note Records in 1956 and recorded over 30 records for the label, often working with Kenny Burrell, Stanley Turrentine, and Jackie McLean. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Smith toured extensively. He switched to the Verve label in 1962 continued to recorded the critically acclaimed records, including " Bashin: The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith." In the 1980s Smith slowed down, but continued to record and perform. In the 1990s he became popular with hip-hop artists and his work can be heard on tracks by the Beastie Boys, Nas, Gang Starr and DJ Shadow. Jimmy Smith died in 2005 of natural causes at the age of 79.


Jimmy Smith appears on Michael Jackson's album "Bad." Jimmy Smith opened a supper club with his wife in North Hollywood in the 1970s, his live album "Root Down" was recorded there in 1972. Jimmy Smith was named a NEA Jazz Master in 2005.

Early Life

James Oscar Smith was born in Pennsylvania in 1925. His father was a pianist and entertainer and Smith joined his act at age 6. By the time Smith was 12 he himself was an accomplished stride piano player. He dropped out of school in 8th grade to start working and then, at age 15, joined the Navy. After completing his service in 1948 Smith took advantage of the GI Bill to study bass and piano at the Hamilton Music School and Ornstein's School of Music. In 1951, after hearing Wild Bill Davis on the organ, Smith was inspired to start playing the Hammond B-3 organ. He spent a year practicing and developing his style and then began playing clubs around Philadelphia. He had his first New York gig in 1956 and was quickly signed by Blue Note Records.