Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on November 28, 2014

I see that some of you like music which, of course, is what I used to do for a lot of my life, if not playing it, then documenting it by founding the All-Music Guide (allmusic.com), the largest collection of music discographies, biographies, tracks, ratings, and reviews on the planet. So I thought I would try out sharing some of my musical favorites and see if you enjoy this kind of thing or not. Let's start with the funky music that I like the most.

I won't spend a lot of time defining "funk," claimed to have come from Kikongo, the Bantu language spoken by the Bandudu people of the Republic of Congo, and their word "lu-fuki," which means "bad body odor," thus words like "funky," which early-on appeared in tunes like coronet player Buddy Bolden's tune "Funky Butt." Are we on the same page? OK.

Popularly funk-music is usually associated with groups like Parliament-Funkadelic and George Clinton, etc., but that is not the kind of funk music that I am pointing at here. Before Funkadelic there was what is called "Original Funk," also called "Soul Jazz," which is the term I will use here to distinguish it from the other funks. And "Soul Jazz" is definitely funky.

Soul Jazz has elements of what is called funky "Hard Bop" and arose in the late 1950s and 1960s, sometimes is associated with Cannonball Adderley's song "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, which is here:


That may be where Soul Jazz came from, but it is not quite the kind that I like, so I might as well just get down to it. Soul Jazz, the way I love it, is found in the organ trios of the 1960s, usually Hammond Organ, sax, and drums, with players like Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, "Brother" Jack Mcduff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Shirley Scott, Big John Patton, Charles Earland, Lonnie Smith, Don Patterson, and others. I love them all.

As for sax on these trios, my favorite is Stanley Turrentine but other favorites include Eddie Harris, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Gene Ammons, and Houston Person.

Jazz guitar works too and the very best IMO Soul Jazz guitar player is Grant Green, followed by Kenny Burrell, and a few others. Drummers include Idris Muhammad, Art Blakey, Donald Baily, and many more.

Soul Jazz for me is, above all, groove music, which simply means to lay down a groove and then stay in it, riding it for all its worth. Something that I wrote that was used in Grant Green's biography, the book "Grant Green: Rediscovering the Forgotten Genius of Jazz Guitar," to quote myself, is this:

"Grant Green’s playing at its best is like this too. It is so recursive that instead of taking the obvious outs we are used to hearing, Green instead chooses to reinvest -- to go in farther and deepen the groove. He opens up a groove and then opens up a groove and then opens a groove, and so on. He never stops. He opens a groove and then works to widen that groove until we can see into the music, see through the music into ourselves. He puts everything back into the groove that he might otherwise get out of it. He knows that the groove is the thing and that time will see him out and his music will live long. That is what grooves are about and why Grant Green is the groove master."

So, while I like and appreciate the best of all kinds of music, when I retreat into my own music-space, for many years all I listened to was Soul Jazz, and the funkier the better. Go figure.


At the heart of original funk and soul jazz sits the Hammond Organ, 400 pounds of musical joy. This unwieldy piece of equipment can do it all -- work by itself, as a duo, trio, quartet, or with a full band. It is a full band. More important is the fact that the Hammond-organ sound pretty much defines real funk. There is something about the percussive sound and the adjustable attack/decay effects that, coupled with the famed (rotating horns) Leslie speakers, epitomizes that music called funk.

Whatever the reason, you will find a Hammond organ at the center (or as backup) of the majority of soul jazz recordings, not to mention contemporary funk and R&B recordings. Jimmy Smith is the man who tamed the great beast and turned the Hammond from a roller-rink calliope into a serious jazz instrument. The story is the Smith locked himself in a warehouse with a Hammond for almost a year and came out playing that sound we all love.

And Smith is just the tip of the top. There are many great Hammond players that are every bit as great in their own way, names like Richard Groove Holmes, Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Scott, Charles Earland, John Patton, Larry Young, and others. Put a Hammond organ and some drums together with a tenor sax or guitar and you have all you need for some real funky music. This is groove music par excellence.

I can talk about it all day, but perhaps it is easier and better just to play you some tunes so that you can see if you like it.

At the top of my list are two Jimmy Smith albums recorded at a single date in April of 1960, “Back at the Chicken Shack” and “Midnight Special”. This must have been quite the day. These have Smith with the great Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, Kenny Burrell on guitar, and Donald Bailey on drums. Don’t miss these albums. Another real jammer from a later period is “Organ Grinder Swing” (1965). These albums are essential Smith and classic soul jazz jams.

Back at the Chicken Shack

Organ Grinder's Swing: The Incredible Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith: The Sermon (1958), with Stanley Turrentine.

Jimmy Smith: Prayer Meetin' (1958), with Kenny Burrell.

Here is a simple piece from the master Jimmy McGriff "Kiko" from the album "I've Got a Woman" from 1968. It lays down a beat and proceeds to go right into trance.

Jack McDuff, Album: “Live!” "Jive Samba"

Richard Groove Holmes, “Misty"

Don Patterson, “Rosetta"

John Patton, “Let em’ Roll”/Blue Note

Shirley Scott, “Blue Flames”/OJC, with Stanley Turrentine (her husband)

Charles Earland, “Black Talk”/Prestige

Charles Kynard, “Reelin’ with the Feeling”/Prestige

Joey DeFrancisco, “All of Me”/Columbia

There you have some Soul Jazz. And to close this out, here is a whole album (not funky) by perhaps my favorite jazz guitarist Grant Green, with jazz organist Larry Young, plus Hank Mobley on tenor sax, and Elvin Jones on drums. Larry Young is another of my favorite Hammond players and he goes "out" sometimes.
Album "I want to Hold Your Hand"

And another Green/Young piece from the Larry Young, Album "Into Somethin'," "Tyrone"

Let me know if this is too much minutiae for you.

[Painterly image of Jimmy Smith at the organ.]