It’s Wednesday the 9th of February and as the new 2005 year is kicking into full swing, I am finally picking up the master reference of my latest CD project and anticipating the radio sound of the music – especially the bass. Also today, Jimmy Smith died – he was 70 years old and left us in his sleep.
I have been concerned about the sound and placement of the bass in the music throughout this project and frankly I still fret a bit since I am the bass player and it’s my production.
My original conception and feel for the bass in organized live and recorded music began in the era of music that promoted the feel and sound of the Hammond Organ and the musicians that used the instrument in church, Jazz and R&B music genres’.
Today my mind takes me back to 1957 in Youngstown, Ohio where at that time I was a teenage trumpet player hanging out on the back porch of a close friend who was also a trumpet player.
I had gone to his house to jam and listen to a new recording that he had with Lee Morgan playing trumpet. He and I both felt that Lee Morgan was close to Clifford Brown’s style and sound and had chosen him as our favorite trumpet player since Clifford was gone. There were only one or two recordings that we knew of where Clifford was the trumpet player during his life.
The new recording that Bub had of our interest was a vinyl LP entitled ‘The Sermon’ by Jimmy Smith. The tune we wanted to listen to and learn on this recording was ‘Flamingo’ on the B side and we were also equally excited to here how Lee took his melodic solos on each tune on the LP.
After spending a couple of hours listening, playing along and studying Lee Morgan’s style of soloing, my friend had to run an errand and left me to hang out alone for about an hour until he returned. So while he was gone I flipped the LP over to the A side to listen to something different than what we had been listening to for the last two or three hours.
Side A had only one tune entitled ‘The Sermon’ and it was 20 minuets long. I put the needle down on the LP and 5 seconds later I was completely transformed and music in my life changed forever. Although I had been around and involved in all kinds of music genres and musical instruments, only once before that day had I ever heard and/or felt the bass as I did over the next hour or so.
The power, conviction and melodic movement of the way he was playing/’walking’ the bass line was the ultimate ‘mountain top’ of my musical life thus far as a musician. Although I was not a keyboard enthusiast, that hour or so alone with Jimmy Smith’s original recording of the ‘Sermon’ was the beginning of my close association with and love for the sound and feel of the bass in organized music.
As well as in today’s music of most popular genres of music, there were many great organ players before and during the ’50’s era playing bass either with their feet or with the left hand. The organ players of today’s popular music all recognize and pay tribute to Jimmy Smith hailed as the ‘God Father’ of the Hammond Organ. I hail him as a ‘God Father’ of walking bass lines and he is at the top of my list of personal mentors and hero’s as one who inspired me, a young trumpet player to play the bass.
During the next 4 years other elements and mentors of such in my musical environments guided me to play baritone horn, tuba, trombone in college and later guitar professionally. I often wonder where my career as a bass player would have gone if not for Jimmy Smith’s inspiration, skill and recorded success during my young life listening to music.
Upon arriving in New York in the early 60’s, I had a 4 or 5 month stint with Bill Doggett then known for his original recording, ‘Honky Tonk’. This tune was an R&B hit of the day and had a lot of the same character and feel of Jimmy Smith’s recording of ‘The Sermon’. Both artist were primarily Jazz players with hit’s in the R&B market.
Bill Played bass with his feet on early recordings and hired electric bass players to play the bass on live concerts/gigs. I got a thrill out of successfully imitating the feel and the style of note progressions traditionally played in the bass by organ players as they accompanied themselves playing melodies, solos and rhythm accompaniment in support of the other musicians. While playing bass with Bill I was always thinking of the Jimmy Smith’s recording of ‘The Sermon’.
When I moved to LA in the early 70’s, Jerome Richardson another special mentor to me during my career, took me to meet Jimmy Smith – I was very excited! He was doing a gig at his restaurant out in the ‘valley’, we were hungry and my visit to meet Jimmy was unannounced to my knowledge.
After a set, Jerome took me back to the kitchen and introduced me to Jimmy with a few accolades regarding my growing popularity as a bass player. With a big smile and a very firm hand shake (he had huge strong hands for a man his size being around 5’10”) he said; “Hey man, how ya doing? I see you came to hear a real bass player!” I smiled back and said; “I don’t know about all that, but you can never know how much this hand shake means to both of us!”
He stopped smiling – looked me up and down and said; “Got your ax with you?” and before I could say anything, he smiled again and said; “Just playing with you, nice to meet you – I see your hangin right , as he smiled toward Jerome. He and Jerome talked a bit and we left to eat, listen to the 2nd set left waving ‘later’ to Jimmy.
Some years later while a member of Herbie Mann’s ‘Reunion Band’, the Universe again put me in a music situation in Jimmy Smith’s presence. The Reunion Band was a group of all star musicians and was one of 6 or 7 acts touring the ‘Playboy Festival’ circuit of concerts. I was elated to know that I would be able to see and hear first hand and in person music performed by Jimmy Smith and with the Playboy All Stars and Etta James with whom I spent a year on the road with in the early ’60’s.
This tour was very special, in that the plane ride to Japan was full of performing artist and their musicians. About half were going to perform at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in Tokyo and the other half going to perform at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Fukuoka. Since The Reunion Band and The Playboy All Stars were “All Star” bands, our flight tickets were business class placing us in and around the ‘artist during the 12 hour flight.
Jimmy Smith was a member of the ‘Playboy All Stars’ and was seated very close to me. During the trip I got the opportunity to experience his character, energy and his general conversation about music and his disposition and thoughts about things other than music. There were around 5 Playboy concerts spanning about a month’s time and I enjoyed so much listening to Jimmy Smith walk the that bass.
He had been told how much he meant to me before and during the tour and did make it obvious to me that he appreciated my musical reverence to him, respected me as a bass player and liked me as a person. It would have been OK if he didn’t, but since he did – another ‘mountain top’ for me.
My voice in music is from the bass clef and the inspiration to lay down good solid grooves was built on the shoulders of Jimmy Smith. My thanks and appreciation with much respect to the life and on going music energy and memory of my personal groove merchant.