Covering prime early recordings from 1956-1960 and one mid-'80s cut, Blue Note's The Best of Jimmy Smith offers up a fine introduction to the trailblazing jazz organist. Smith's Blue Note sessions not only introduced the world to the complex solo possibilities of the Hammond B3 organ, but simultaneously ushered in the soul-jazz era of the '60s, spawning a wealth of fine imitators in the process. Before delving into more commercial terrain on Verve in the late '60s, Smith cut a ton of jam-session dates for Blue Note, often with the help of hard bop luminaries like trumpeter Lee Morgan, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, tenor saxophonists Tina Brooks and Stanley Turrentine, and drummers Art Blakey and Donald Bailey. All are heard here on classic cuts like "The Sermon," "Back at the Chicken Shack," and "The Jumpin' Blues," with Smith regular Turrentine and a young Morgan availing themselves in especially fine form. For his part, Smith eats up the scenery on all the sides here, taking his solo to particularly impressive heights on a fleetly swinging rendition of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." Rounded out by a 1986 reading of Blue Mitchell's samba groove "Fungii Mama" (marking Smith's return to Blue Note after a 23 year absence), The Best of Jimmy Smith qualifies both as an excellent first-choice disc for Smith newcomers and an appropriate entrée into the soul-jazz catalog.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook