The Emergence of the Hammond B-3 Jazz Electric Organ In New Jersey and Pennsylvania


The electric organ had been played by greats such as Fats Waller, Count Basie, Bill Doggert, and Shirley Scott. However none of these musicians captivated our attention like James Oscar Smith (December 8, 1925-February 8, 2005). Jimmy was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He heard Fats Waller play the organ and was forced to go into the "woodshed" to develop his own personal technique and skills on the Hammond B-3 organ. He emerged in 1953 and soon became known as the father of the modern day Hammond B-3 jazz electric organ. Smith's virtuoso improvisation technique on the organ helped to popularize the organ as a jazz and blues instrument. He used walking bass lines on the foot pedals, bass lines on the lower manual and pedals and stops for emphasis. The success of his 1956 album release of The Incredible Jimmy Smith at the Club "Baby Grand" in Wilmington, Delaware assured his musical future. Following the release of this album, a succession of organ players were influenced by Jimmy and drawn to play the Hammond B-3 organ. It is important to note that most of these pioneer organists were born and played in the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas. This region was a music hub. Names you might recall, to name a few, are JacK Mc Duff, birthplace Illinois, September 17, 1926-January 23, 2001), Richard "Groove" Holmes (birthplace Camden, New Jersey, May 2, 1931-June 29, 1991), Jimmy McGriff (birthplace Germantown, Pennsylvania, April 3, 1936-May 5, 2008), Don Patterson (birthplace Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 22, 1936-February 10, 1988), Larry Young (birthplace Newark, New Jersey, October 7, 1946-March 3, 1978), Charles Earland (birthplace Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 24, 1941-December 11, 1999), Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith (birthplace Lackawana, New York, July 3, 1942 to present), Trudy Pitts (birthplace Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1933 to present), Gene Ludwig (birthplace Twin Rocks, Pennsylvania, September 4, 1937 to present), and Joey DeFrancesco (birthplace Springfield, Pennsylvania, April 10, 1971 to present). Joey's father is the B-3 player "Papa" John De Francesco. I had the opportunity to see Joey play with Jimmy Smith , as a tribute, right before Jimmy died in 2005. The engagement was at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, California. Jimmy and Joey were friends and once lived close to each other. Notable sidemen who played with these organists are too numerous to mention in this conversation.

The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Camden, New Jersey areas were an incubator for African American do-wop, rhythm and blues, and jazz in the 1950s and 60s. Few of us are aware that this region and time were largely responsible for the rebirth of the jazz organ. The jazz organ, in turn, enhanced growth in appeal for the jazz guitar and small bands. A typical band included an organ, guitar, drums, and saxophone. Nightclubs throughout this region were able to fill their empty seats with more partying and happy customers. Let's not forget that this was the era of segregation. African American musicians had not reached fruition in the larger white world of music. The new love affair with organ trios had clubs rocking and jumping from Philly down to Atlantic City, N. J. Club owners were happier, because they didn't have to pay large bands. Jazz guitarists could get more gigs, play their driving solos, and gain greater recognition for their instrument. High Fidelity sound and its speaker systems were new and in vogue. The grooving sounds and roaming bass lines of the B-3 organ were swinging and could be heard and appreciated in a new light. The music pipeline between New York, Philadelphia, and New Jersey was up and running with a steady flow of music.

On a typical musical journey, you could leave New York at noon, stop in New Brunswick, New Jersey for an afternoon matinee featuring Jack Mc Duff on organ and George Benson on guitar, briefly sample Peps or the Showboat clubs in Philly, or cross the Delaware River to hear Richard Groove Holmes at Spider Kelly's in Camden, New Jersey. You'd know when the "Groove" was on the scene, because he parked the hearse that carried his B-3 organ nearby. A twenty minute drive to the south would take you to the historic community of Lawnside, N. J. for more clubs and freshly cooked outdoor barbeque. The night country air was warm and fresh, the food was great, and the band sounds echoed from the clubs into the wee hours of the morning. Atlantic City, N. J. was only an hour's drive away. This city's legendary Kentucky Avenue housed some of the best African American clubs and restaurants on the east coast. It was the ideal place for nightlife. Liquor laws were more relaxed, and clubs stayed open most of the night. The time was right for the Hammond B-3 electric organ, and it had firmly established its place in jazz. It was show time.

Below is a sample of historic Philadelphia and New Jersey nightclubs.

Philadelphia, Pa.: Peps, Showboat, and The Earle Theater
Camden, N. J.: Spider Kelly's
Newark, N. J.: The Front Room, Club 83, The key Club, and Sparky J's
New Brunswick, N. J.:
Palmyra, N. J.: The Dew Drop Inn
Lawnside, N. J.: The Dreamland Cafe, The Cotton Club, Wilcox's Cafe, The Wippoowill Club, and Loretta's Hi Hat
Atlantic City, N. J.: Graces, The Little Belmont, The Winter Garden, Paradise Club, The Club Harlem, The Jockey Club, The High Hat, and The 500 Club.

These clubs showed a marked decline in the late 1950s. Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, George Benson, Sarah Vaughn, Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, Lou Rawls, Sammy Davis Jr., Kenny Burrell, Dizzy Gillespie, The Jazz Messengers, Wes Montgomery, Jerry Lewis, the organists mentioned above, and countless other well known and respected musicians made their appearances. Each musician had a unique musical delivery and voice. There was no "half-stepping" once a performer was on-stage, excellence was demanded by the audience.

Dr. Don Harris


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