Hammond B-3 player Jimmy Smith
wasn't the first organ player in jazz, but he was certainly the first to really matter. His style provided a template for nearly all the jazz organists who followed in his wake -- from Jimmy McGriff and "Brother" Jack McDuff to Richard "Groove" Holmes and Big John Patton. His influence has stretched well into the mainstream, most notably in the music of Medeski, Martin and Wood and the Beastie Boys. Smith found a formula early on and has generally stuck to it for the last half-century -- but it's a nifty little formula. His remarkably fluid playing marries jazz with blues, R&B, gospel, pop, rock and funk.The songs he's chosen to record only serve to deepen those connections; his albums have drawn from virtually every popular genre of the last century. What's more remarkable is that he's done this without coming off as a keyboard cousin to George Benson. Whereas Benson and others have too often focused on the more saccharine components of pop songs, Smith bathes in their sweaty side. Few could turn "Jingle Bells" into tent-revival material the way he can.
In recent years, Smith's recorded output has maintained a consistently high quality. Even the requisite all-star vehicle, Dot Com Blues, released earlier this year, managed to rise above its formula to present some truly soulful jazz and blues. When Smith visits St. Louis, Dr. John, Keb' Mo' and the album's other celebrity guests aren't likely to be on hand. Instead, Smith will probably bring a little band, his Hammond B-3 and a whole lot of soul -- and that'll do just fine.