Jimmy Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jimmy Smith 

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In a nightclub I once heard jazz organist Jimmy Smith begin a set with a fast blues; he followed it with a slow blues; and then he played a medium-tempo blues. After that he spoke to the audience for the first time that evening: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we will play a blues." Even when Smith plays bop and pop standards, blues harmonies and blues phrasing enliven his music. He virtually introduced the electric organ to jazz. Before Smith emerged in the mid-50s, the little bit of jazz organ that was played was usually the work of pianists like Count Basie and Fats Waller on busman's holiday. It was Smith who started the jazz organ fad, as crowds of young players discovered the instrument and scrambled to learn his licks. He still sets the pace today, mingling hearty bop stomps with swooning ballads and funky, after-hours moods that envelop the listener in their dark smoky atmosphere. Thursday through Sunday, June 6, Jazz Showcase, in the Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan Ave.; 427-4300.


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