Jazz, Blues, and Gospel have been evolving alongside each other for decades. The presence of blues and gospel influences brought jazz to another level and helped it become what it is today.

The History of the Organ

Organs had been used in gospel churches for years when some jazz musicians such as Fats Waller and Count Basie began incorporating them into their recordings.

Enter the Hammond Organ

The Hammond organ had a sound like no other and unleashed new potential for musical expression. The first artist to come into the public eye was Wild Bill Davis in 1949, who was known for a big band-like approach to the instrument coming out of a sort of rhythm-and-blues style.

Blues and Hard Bop

Around the same time was the advent of the Hard-Bop era in the early fifties where groups like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet brought blues and gospel influences into the foreground.

The God of Jazz Organ: Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith came on the scene and began doing things on the organ that had never been done before. He was deeply influenced by pianist Art Tatum and saxophonist Charlie Parker, and translated that jazz vocabulary onto the organ. He also began walking bass lines on the organ in a jazz style. All the while, he brought a hard edge to the music in the form of his blues roots.

Smith influenced a generation of organists who came after him including:

 Lou Bennett, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Don Patterson, Larry Young, and Lonnie Smith.

Jazz Organ As We Know it Today

Since the golden era of jazz organ, some modern stylists have revitalized the instrument, and in some cases taken it to new places.

Some disciples of Jimmy Smith have gained notoriety including Tony Monaco and Joey DeFrancesco. Joey is known for his virtuosic playing, seen here on the standard tune “Bye Bye Blackbird”

Others such as Larry Goldings have begun to use the organ in a modern jazz context and expanded the possibilities of the instrument texturally and orchestrationally.

Jazz Organ Listening Guide

Jack McDuff – Screamin!


Larry Young – Unity


Jimmy McGriff – Groove Grease


Jimmy Smith – Back at the Chicken Shack


Lonnie Smith – with George Benson


Corey Henry – The Revival Project


For further reading:



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Sterling Cozza

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