King of the B-3
King of the B-3′ Wears a Tarnished Crown
by Dick Bogle
If Jimmy Smith is indeed the king of the Hammond B-3, as his publicity states, then the king is dead! At a recent post-mortem appearance at Seattle’s Jazz Alley, it appeared Smith was severely lacking. Not only were effort and emotion lacking, but so were fundamentals every entertainer must have respect for the audience and band mates.
The house was packed May 26 for the 8:30 p.m. first show. Smith strode in, took his seat front-and-center and behind the B-3 amid great crowd anticipation. He was accompanied on stage by a guitarist, a saxophonist and a drummer. After each of them soloed on several tunes, some audience members began to wonder whom they were hearing. Finally, Smith reached for the microphone. Maybe he was going to say, “Good evening” or ” It’s nice to see so many of you here.” Instead, he complained about the lighting, calling for more colored lights.
Meanwhile, after the lighting monologue, the audience was still waiting. Waiting for the introduction of his sidemen and, oh yes, his first real organ solo.
He played the organ, true, but at best it was only dabbling. Then he introduced the guitarist who turned out to be Mark Whitfield, a talented and erudite musician. Smith and the still unidentified others left the stage as Whitfield exhibited chops and imagination while delivering a long and complicated medley of “Too Young To Go Steady” and “The Very Thought Of You.” That marked the first of two extended bandstand absences by Smith.
After his second return, he did manage a brief milquetoast solo on an unidentified blues tune and another lackluster effort on the easily identifiable “The Sermon.”
What held it together were the stellar solo efforts by Whitfield and the saxophonist, whom I found out after the show from the emcee was Herman Riley. Riley played both tenor and soprano with verve and panache. An exponent of circular breathing, his solos were well-constructed and creative.
The drummer, Tommy Campbell, is a good drummer but has been cast in more favorable circumstances with other bands. Overall, the band, as a unit, appeared to be out of sync, and the polar opposite of tight and crisp.
Pity that Smith will never again have the opportunity to reach out with respect and charm to greet this particular audience who came and sat jam-packed to hear him.
Hopefully they will bank the musical memories generated by Whitfield and Riley. Smith should be remembered, however, for generating the prominence of the organ in today’s jazz. While not the first to play organ jazz, Smith did lead it closer to the mainstream, beginning in the early 1950s. But then, as one in attendance at Jazz Alley said, ” If you are gonna keep on, you gotta keep up.”