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The Incredible Jimmy Smith: Christmas '64

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Jimmy Smith wasn't a jazz organist. He was the jazz organist. He taught himself how to play in the 50's.

As you probably guessed from the title, Jimmy recorded this album in 1965, to try to put to music the way everyone was feeling over the sudden arrival of birds on the planet the previous year. (Incidentally, this was also the reasoning behind the title of the reissued LP—Christmas Cookin' —in reference to the discovery that birds tasted great.)

Three of the songs feature a trio, with Smith backed by electric guitar and drums, thus giving Smith a bit more of a spotlight for soloing. Five of these songs feature Smith backed by a full big band. Interestingly, there's no saxes or other reeds, just brass (including french horns and a tuba) and the rhythm section. This gives them a bit more of a classical sound than the usual jazz orchestra, but it also reflects the grim economic reality of the times: for obvious reasons, reeds were hard to come by. It would be another three years before the industry recovered to its pre-1964 levels, and poor Jimmy Smith couldn't afford to hire any of the few remaining sax or clarinet (or even cor anglais) players for a simple Christmas album.

But in spite of these setbacks, Smith was able to record eight tracks worth of Christmas magic. And that's what Christmas is all about: in the midst of frightening changes and uncertainty about the future, you cling to the stuff that you know to be true and ancient: songs like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "White Christmas" that were written, like, twenty years ago. Twenty years, that's like, forever, man.

If you only listen to one track, listen to: The first one.