Jimmy Smith, 1928-2005


King of the B3 HammondOrgan

By Carli Muñoz

Some time ago during the mid 70’s, I was doing a gig with my jazz-fusion group “Your Own Space” at a club in North Hollywood, I think it was Dante’s. Musicians such as Freddy Hubbard, Al Jarreau, the cats from MJQ, from the rock band Chicago and other great musicians delightfully populated the room. During the first break, I got a note from one of the waitresses saying: “Jimmy Smith wants to see you”. Being as overwhelmed and busy as one can be by getting the best enjoyment out of such company and being engaged on a conversation where both Jarreau and Hubbard were asking me to join their respective touring band, I quickly dismissed the note. I figured that it had come from no one I knew or from a guitar player who used to hang around the band a lot and his name was Jimmy Smith.

The break was over and we played another set. As we were leaving the stage the waitress came back with another note: JIMMY SMITH WANTS TO SEE YOU! This time the waitress pointed across the dark room. The first thing I see is a mouthful of teeth floating about 6 feet in the air that looked pretty darn familiar and in a matter of split seconds, it brought to me the memories of some of the most transcendental and gravity-defying keyboard playing I’ve ever heard! As if on a quantum leap I find myself being grabbed by this towering figure and lifted off the ground - my sense of joy would just be inexplicable. Still holding me he says to me: “Who do you like, man…Herbie or McCoy?” I was a little thrown off by the question because I like them both very much. I answered: “Well…I…a…I like them both, but…Mc Coy…” He says “Ohhhh noooo man…there is a sudden ambiguous pause and he says intensely looking straight at my eyes: Yeahhh…that’s the one… man… that’s the one!!!

Once we got through that unusual and exhilarating first encounter we just hung out all night talking about music. This man ONLY talked about music; this man IS music. That same evening he invited me to go with him to his supper club in San Fernando Valley. I remember his club as cozy and dark and if there was a bar or tables I will never know because my focus and attention as I walked in went straight to a little stage straight ahead and slightly above the ground that cradled the Hammond organ that has brought so much joy to a whole generation of jazz music. There was probably a set of drums next to the organ but I don’t distinctly remember seeing that either.

Jimmy took me straight to the back of the stage where he had an old spinet piano facing the back of the stage. He sat and played the piano and there we just carried on for the rest of the evening just having fun and sharing musical ideas.

As if it wasn’t enough to have been touched by Jimmy Smith’s music throughout my formative jazz years, this most special event sealed the man in my soul.

Long live the king!

Carli Munoz