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A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, the KNKX and Jazz24 music teams illustrate the different styles that make up jazz history through storytelling and music. From the early 1900’s to present, journey with us from Dixieland to modern jazz styles, big-band to hip-hop.

Organs, gospel music and a steady groove established soul jazz

Jimmy Smith sits at his organ in his home with awards and photos on a wall in the background.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Associated Press
Jazz musician Jimmy Smith plays the organ at his home studio in Sacramento, Calif., May 24, 1993. At the time of Smith's death in 2005, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia said "Jimmy Smith transformed the organ into a jazz instrument."

Often using an electric Hammond organ, soul jazz drew influences from gospel, blues and R&B and, of course, the popular soul genre. Stephanie Anne Johnson explores the early days of the soul jazz.

Listen to the story above or read the script below:

As a subgenre, soul jazz began to flourish in the early 1960s. The style begins with a strong bass line, establishes a steady groove, and then gets embellished with chord structures and thematic elements drawn heavily from gospel, blues and R&B traditions of the African American or Black church.

The soul pioneers of the 1950s - led by Ray Charles, Etta James, Sam Cooke and Little Richard – all learned music performing in gospel groups. They then incorporated blues into gospel - shifted to secular lyrics and the soul genre was born.

Ray Charles' small group recordings - which included saxophonists David ‘Fathead’ Newman and Hank Crawford – influenced the music of jazz artists like Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderley.

Saxophone was the primary voice of bebop and hard bop of the 1940’s and 50’s and soul jazz is characterized by the use of organ, almost always Hammond B3, and is gospel and soul inspired. Compared to bebop, soul jazz is harmonically simple – using two or three chord vamps, often using triads rather than extended or altered chords, and generally long with dance rhythms.

Many listeners make no distinction between the soul jazz of artists like Ray Charles, and the funky hard bop of the likes of Horace Silver. And many musicians don't consider soul jazz to be continuous with hard bop (accordingto Mark C. Gridley in the "All Music Guide to Jazz"). And so goes the analysis on the evolution of jazz styles.

We also have the 45 and LP to thank for some of the soul jazz trend. These “long-play” formats only came about in the mid 1950’s, allowing for longer recordings and the ability of the jukebox to have a new life in real live juke joints all around the country.

Soul jazz became most popular at the onset of the early 60’s when organistJimmy Smith (considered the father of soul jazz) pared down his style to a funky essence, moving from the bop and hard bop of his 1956-1958 albums, beginning with “Home Cookin’” released in 1959.

Jimmy Smith was quickly followed by other significant organ players including Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, John Patton, Shirley Scott and Richard “Groove” Holmes. Classic tunes associated with bebop and hard bop jazz drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers included the Horace Silver composition “The Preacher” and Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin.'” Both were popular soul jazz tunes with roots in the church.

Some well-known soul jazz recordings include trumpeter Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder." In fact, to many, "Sidewinder" is the definitive soul jazz recording.

The Jazz Crusaders evolved from jazz to soul jazz, becoming the Crusaders in the process. Other well-known artists and songs of the early soul jazz era include Nat Adderley's "Work Song"; Ramsey Lewis's "The 'In' Crowd"; Cannonball Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"; and Les McCann and Eddie Harris's album "Swiss Movement" that produced the hit record "Compared to What”.

Soul jazz also introduced us to some all-time great guitar players including Grant Green, Cornell Dupree and a 21-year-old phenom by the name of George Benson. After an apprenticeship with organist Jack McDuff, Benson put out his first album as a leader in 1964. Two years later, he released "The George Benson Cookbook", which also featured Dr. Lonnie Smith on organ and Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax.

Soul jazz is music of the people. The grooves and danceability make the music joyful and has paved the way for current and future innovators to take in new, adventurous directions.

KNKX Celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month

Throughout the month of April, we will be illustrating different styles of jazz through time that make up jazz history through storytelling and music. From the early 1900’s to 2022, we will journey from Dixieland to Modern Jazz styles, Big Band to Hip Hop.

Listen to installments weekdays at 9am and 7pm on 88.5 FM and See all stories from the KNKX History of Jazz project.

Stephanie Anne is a Tacoma native who has been singing since they were young. A classically trained vocalist who is also a fine guitar player and song writer. Stephanie Anne attended Pacific Lutheran University – and now heads the group – The Hi Dogs – which gives you a bit of a clue that they perform - Americana, Soul, Country, Folk, Gospel and who continued to work through the pandemic virtually.