Jazz And Grooves: Jimmy Smith - "Organ Grinder Swing"

Jimmy Smith • Organ Grinder Swing • 1965 • Verve Records
Recorded June 14 & 15, 1965 at Rudy Van Gelder Studios

The Selections:

The Tracks:

A1. The Organ Grinder's Swing
A2. Oh, No, Babe
A3. Blues For J
B1. Greensleeves
B2. I'll Close My Eyes
B3. Satin Doll

The Players:

Jimmy Smith - Organ
Kenny Burrell - Guitar
Grady Tate - Drums

The Record:

The opening track on Organ Grinder Swing might have us thinking we've got a down-home raunchy blues party going on here, and indeed the three tracks on side one are full of that populist soul jazz sound that made the LP a top twenty hit. Yet we've got first-rate jazz talent here with Smith, Burrell and Tate, and on side two they switch things up and get their hard bop groove on, showing off some serious improvisational skills by three virtuosos on their chosen instruments.

Kenny Burrell appeared on no fewer than twenty different albums with Jimmy Smith, including two of my all-time favorite jazz records in The Sermon! and Back At The Chicken Shack. The interplay between the two jazz legends was always first-rate, and while Smith put out some classic LPs with the likes of Quentin Warren and Eddie McFadden, it was with Burrell that the organist really shined. Add in the precision drumming of Grady Tate and it's no surprise that Organ Grinder Swing harkens back to the best recordings Smith made for Blue Note back in the day.

Organ Grinder Swing appeared right around the midway point of Smith's tenure with Verve, a period that found him courting the mainstream more than he had when he was setting the pace over at Blue Note earlier in the decade. While he did indeed find commercial success with his big band recordings, Organ Grinder Swing shows that he still had "jazz" in his heart, and the album ranks up there with the best of his work from the 1960s. The LP was recorded at Van Gelder Studios, but has the feeling of being documented live in a cozy nightclub. Whether it be the opening salvo of "The Organ Grinder's Swing" or the sparkling improvisation on "Greensleeves" (there is certainly some Coltrane influence in Smith's solos here), the trio just doesn't sound like they're sitting in a studio in New Jersey. Whether that's a testament to the energy Smith and Burrell had performing together, or simply the mastery of Van Gelder's technique, it really doesn't matter, because in the end they left us with a stellar mid-'60s organ-guitar-drummer recording that ranks with the best of them.


The Details: This one's an original deep groove stereo pressing, with the black "T" label that Verve used on their jazz releases. MGM purchased Verve in 1960 so we have their legalese along the bottom. This being an original pressing of a Van Gelder session, we also have "VAN GELDER" stamped on both sides. According to Discogs, this LP was released in both stereo and mono, but wasn't re-issued again in the US, which is surprising for a Top Twenty album. It was, however, repressed a few times throughout the 1970s and 1980s in both Europe and Japan.

The Price: I paid $12, a price right in line with the LP's VG+ condition all around. The vinyl is nearly spotless, and the gatefold cover is still shiny with very little ringwear.

The Sound: Fantastic vintage analog sound here, as noted above the playback is phenomenal: crisp and loud with lots of depth. Van Gelder's must have loved the simplicity of the trio format, every note and nuance comes through with a clarity that really does give off the feeling of having a front row seat as the trio performs on stage.

Final Thoughts:

I'm all for the soul jazz groove, but the real gems on the album are the ones that showcase how fantastic the long-standing partnership between Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell really was: these two just fit together, it was no accident of circumstance that kept finding these two working together time and again. They clearly fed off of each other's creativity and drive, and Organ Grinder Swing finds the two men relishing in playing jazz music once again, at a time when they were often moving towards more commercial settings and arrangements. This album may rank below some of Smith's and Burrell's legendary recordings, but it is every bit as enjoyable as anything either legend ever laid down on wax.