Jimmy Smith has big hands...and feet too.

In the beginning was the Hammond B-3 organ.

It had no computer chips or hard drives or loops or samples. There was none of that sissy laptop, miniaturized, compact stuff. There was only the big B-3 in all its meaty, manly glory and, as any roady will attest, all its tonnage. Add a Leslie tone cabinet and, on any given gig night, muscles were strained, backs were sprained. Quite a load.

Any musician fortunate enough to play in a band with a B-3, but too unfortunately poor to have roadies on the payroll, knew what he was in for when the gang arrived at the gig. It was backbreaking work before the musicianly work began, and carrying the thing meant all members of the ensemble had to look out for one another. I once mashed the already permanently crippled third finger of my left hand when one of us misstepped on the stairway to some now unremembered ballroom in New England. That's a pretty important finger for a bass player to lose. My memory of the rest of the evening has to do with regular shots of bourbon, marijuana in the parking lot, and the increasing certainty that my notion of hell as that which you live through before you die is true.

But, despite a pretty hard bump on the concrete steps, the old B-3 never burped.

The un-synthesizer, that's what the B-3 was. It was subtle, sometimes contrary, but always equipped to serve the tune. To be sure, it couldn't be made to sound like a trumpet or a trombone or a violin; the very idea was ridiculous. That's why there are trumpet and trombone and violin manufacturers and the dedicated, music-smitten people who go to the trouble of learning to play those instruments. But Robert Moog and his groundbreaking synthesizer came along in 1965 and changed all that and, at least in the world of jazz, something that had to do with texture and timbre got elbowed to the rear of the music. The deep, inexplicable emotions that jazz always had aroused in me became strangers. The listening experience became clinical, almost sterile. And when one of my keyboard heroes, the sublime Herbie Hancock, jumped into synthesized music, torso and all, I was dismayed and in despair.

The only working musician I can think of who has given synthesized, computerized jazz-related music a patina of possibility is Joe Zawinul. In my jazz world, Zawinul is the only musician to be trusted with high musical technology.

However, after the collective unconscious of music lovers evaluated the B-3 and saw that it was good, the B-3 begat Jimmy Smith. And Smith has dwelt in the land of Hammond for a very long time.
>From the 1950s to today, the 73-year-old master of the Hammond has demonstrated consistently that the B-3 is relevant in the jazz context, and has shown how a musician who thoroughly understands and commands his instrument can turn that instrument into something more than a sideman's tool.
And that's because Jimmy Smith has big ears, ears that have assimilated all the usual jazz influences and the variations thereupon, brought via some of his periodic partners, people with names like Jackie McLean, Kenny Burrell, Stanley Turrentine, Lou Donaldson, Oliver Nelson and Lee Morgan.
And he has big hands to divide the duties between the chordal left, to keep those tonic holes filled, and the melodic right, to push and push and push that tune into a corner where it has no choice but to break through into yet grander vistas of improvisational possibility, and then race home, leaving the listener in the throes of a sublime transport.

And he has big feet, to hold down the bottom on that B-3 pedal pedestal, so that he seems not only to play, but to dance, each limb serving the music in a way that calls into service both mind and body. If Jimmy Smith were an octopus, there'd be no need for accompaniment.
He's been working out on the Hammond since 1951 and, I am happy to note that, after a period of questionable musical decisions, made, most likely, by the suits who ran Verve in the late '60s, and an on-again, off-again period in the '70s and '80s, he's still dancing across those pedals and touring periodically.

Recordings? Take your pick. His catalogue is rich in the soulful jazz he purveys and, like an O. Henry story, there always seems to be at least one strange twist to be found as he corners that tune.
My personal favorite is 1960's "Back At The Chicken Shack" on Blue Note, but there are scores of others, many still in print, some reissued, and there are compilations of his work available from Blue Note, Verve, Polygram and others. Check your local music shop.

And don't forget to listen for the unique sound he harnessed from the big Hammond B-3, the king of all the electric keyboards. The sound isn't sterile, and the clinically-minded should just stay away.