Jimmy Smith in Norristown, Pennsylvania, USA. Smith was influenced by both gospel and blues. He first achieved prominence in the 1950s where his recordings became popular on jukeboxes before there were commonly used terms to describe his unique musical flavor. In the sixties and seventies he helped create the jazz style known as 'funk' or 'soul jazz'.
There had been earlier limited use of the electric organ in jazz (notably by Fats Waller and Count Basie), though these early examples sometimes had a novelty feel. Smith is widely recognized as introducing the electric organ as a legitimate musical instrument, capable of vituoso improvisation.
Smith employed a unique technique to emulate a string bass player on the organ. Although he played walking bass lines on the pedals on ballads, for uptempo tunes, he would play the bass line on the lower manual and use the pedals for emphasis on the attack of certain notes. His solos were characterised by percussive chords mixed with very fast melodic improvisation with the right hand. He generally used a drawbar registration of 868000000 or 888000000 on the lower manual, which he used for the bass line and comping chords. He used a similar registration on the upper manual, which he used for soloing, but with the addition of the Hammond's percussion circuit.
Smith was a prolific recording artist. He first recorded with the Blue Note label in 1956. His early albums with Blue Note sold very well, improving its financial viability and aiding the label's efforts to promote other artists. They include Home Cookin' , The Sermon!, Midnight Special, Prayer Meetin' , and Back at the Chicken Shack.
Smith signed to Verve Records label in 1963. Smith's albums with Verve include: The Cat, The Boss, Root Down, Peter & The Wolf, Any Number Can Win, The Incredible..., Bashin' , Got My Mojo Workin' , Christmas Cookin' , and Organ Grinder Swing.
It was in this period that he began a regular collaboration with Guitarist Wes Montgomery, with whom he recorded two albums: The Dynamic Duo with Wes Montgomery and Further Adventures Of Jimmy and Wes.
Smith recorded with a full orchestra and worked with arrangers and conductors such as Lalo Schifrin and Oliver Nelson. He also worked in small groups that featured many of the best jazz musicians of his era: Kenny Burrell, Donald "Duck" Bailey, Grady Tate, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, Jackie McLean and Stanley Turrentine among them.
Smith had a career revival in the 'eighties and 'nineties, again recording for Blue Note and Verve, as well as for the Milestone label. There are also numerous recordings with other artists available including: Love And Peace: A Tribute To Horace Silver with Dee Dee Bridgewater (1995) and Blue Bash! with Kenny Burrell (1963).
His influence has been felt across multiple generations and musical styles; nearly every subsequent jazz organist owes a large debt to Smith. The Beastie Boys (who sampled the bassline from Smith's "Root Down (and Get It)" - and saluted Smith in the lyrics - for their own hit "Root Down"), Medeski, Martin & Wood, and The Hayden-Eckert Ensemble are among the better known contemporary bands that pay tribute to Smith's sensibilities and sound. The Acid Jazz movement also reflects Smith's influences.
Smith died on February 8, 2005, in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA.