Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Date With Jimmy Smith

Blue Note LPs from the 1950s and 1960s are prized by record collectors for their sonic qualities and the rather amazingly consistent excellence of the music. Co-owner (with Francis Wolff) Alfred Lion was the main producer for the label, and his great taste resulted in a long string of records of the highest caliber, with very few duds mixed in. Other factors involved in making Blue Note such a great label were the sound engineering of Rudy Van Gelder and the striking covers designed by Reid Miles. Van Gelder not only recorded the vast majority of Blues Notes, he also did the mastering. (He had his own cutting lathes in his studio.) Miles never had much of a design budget; Lion often told him to limit his designs to two colors. But Francis Wolff was a talented photographer, and Miles often used Wolff's photographs as the basis for his covers, and in the end created a body of work that defined the Blue Note label almost as much as the music.

One of Lion's discoveries was the virtuosic Jimmy Smith, who practically reinvented the Hammond organ as a jazz instrument. All of Smith's earliest Blue Note albums use the standard "organ trio" instrumentation: organ, guitar, and drums. The first time Lion put Smith with a larger group was for the February, 1957 session which produced the two volumes of A Date With Jimmy Smith. This is a typical informal jazz blowing session, and the horn players, Donald Byrd, Lou Donaldson, and Hank Mobley are perfectly chosen for this kind of date. There are few surprises (and almost of them come from the unpredictable Mr. Smith) but much to enjoy.

My copy of Volume One is a mid-60s pressing; for any real collecting geeks reading this, it has one "47 West 63rd" label and one "New York" label. My Volume Two is a later Japanese Tobisha pressing, also with excellent sound. Here's the opening track of Volume One, "Falling in Love With Love."

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