The Fantastic Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith

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The Fantastic Jimmy Smith Review

by Scott Yanow

When Jimmy Smith burst on the scene in 1955, playing his exciting brand of jazz organ at the Café Bohemia and the following year on records for Blue Note, he seemed to appear fully formed from out of nowhere. In the early '60s, a budget LP from the Up Front label had ten obscure selections from the beginning of Smith's career, but failed to give any real information. Now those ten numbers plus six other cuts have been reissued on this historic CD. Recorded most likely during 1953-1954, the performances on this disc comprise Jimmy Smith's earliest recording sessions. Smith is generally joined by tenor saxophonist Al Cass (some numbers have an altoist who might also be Cass), an unknown guitarist (possibly Thornel Schwartz), and drummer/singer Don Gardner, who was actually the leader of the combo. Smith, who just began learning the organ in 1953, displays a heavier touch on these pioneering sides than he would a little later, showing off the influence of Wild Bill Davis and Milt Buckner. He already had plenty of power and his facility was impressive, but his sound was not distinctive yet. The selections all clock in at around three minutes, since the music was meant for release on 45s and hopefully on jukeboxes. Three of the selections have vocals by Gardner, and the music -- much of which has an R&B feel -- includes standards (including "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "Jeepers Creepers," and "Dancing on the Ceiling"), ballads, and basic originals. The music is enjoyable if not essential, and it is very good to have these historic performances available, showing how Jimmy Smith sounded at the start of his remarkable career.

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