Jimmy Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The thrill of hearing Jimmy Smith stems partly from the chance to hear history. When you listen to the Hammond organ played by the man who turned it from a novelty instrument into a jazz staple, you may well experience a slight frisson--such as you might get, say, if Alexander Bell showed up to install your phone jack. In Smith's case you also confront the danger of familiarity. Except for a greater emphasis on slow blues tunes than fast ones, he's not doing anything much different from years past; and since his sound echoes throughout the style of virtually every other jazz organist of the past 30 years, you might feel you've turned down a too-familiar street. Then why have I inked this one onto my calendar? Because of Smith's alchemy: when he reels off one of those whiplash runs at the keyboard or pumps out a rocking bass line from his foot pedals, I get lost in the sheer soul swing of the music and willingly ignore the fact that I've heard this all before. This time through, Smith brings a quartet featuring the big-toned New Orleans reedman Herman Riley on sax and flute. Riley's credits include the big bands of Count Basie and Lionel Hampton, so he has more than a little experience at shouting solos in front of walls of sound--such as those emanating from a Hammond B-3 with Leslie speaker in full spin. Friday through Sunday, Jazz Buffet, 2556 W. Diversey; 862-0055.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/William Claxton.

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