Song Of The Day 9/27/2015: Jimmy Smith – “The Organ Grinder's Swing”

Vital Organs – The organ is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world. That is, it’s one of the oldest still worth thinking about on a practical basis. There were some foghorn-type instruments that probably predate the organ, but they were impossibly long and covered in seaweed. The organ was just as immovable and suspect to environmental conditions, but you could play more than one note. Some of the earliest organs were hydraulic, using pumped water to push currents through a series of tubes. Later organs had bigger pipes and were built into giant cathedrals, where their insurmountable combination of amplitude and terror put the fear of a judgmental God into the guts of self-hating landowners who promptly sold their plots to the church at discount prices. These organs were also used in 20th century pizza parlors to similar effect.

Finally, somebody discovered electricity and the organ’s power source was considerably simplified. Fear was replaced by comfort, ease, and contempt for the beat generation. Organs were still fairly difficult to move around, but by that time we had trucks. The giant pipes were no more, replaced by rotating Leslie cabinets and second-hand smoke. The golden age of jazz and rock provided a golden opportunity for the organ to stake its claim as a staple instrument. This week will focus on six organ instrumentals: five which will entertain and excite you, and one that’s been scientifically proven to clear the room. That’ll come on Friday, when we need you to clear the room.

I have to start this week off with jazz great Jimmy Smith (1925–2005), arguably the first star of the Hammond B3 organ, created in 1935. Smith started off as a pianist and allegedly didn’t even touch an organ until he was 29. That was when he bought his first B3 and kept it stored in a Philadelphia warehouse, where it quietly and deliberately bloomed under Smith’s caring hands. When he brought the B3 sound to jazz in the ’50s it was a surprising and immediate hit, and Smith’s ensuing career was both commercially successful and impossibly influential in the development of R&B and soul jazz of the ’60s. “The Organ Grinder’s Swing” was Smith’s 1965 cover of a ’30s composition with one of his usual accomplices, guitarist Kenny Burrell, and other people who were in the general area at the time.

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