Soul-Jazz: Where Jazz, Blues And Gospel Meet

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Jimmy Smith i i
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Jimmy Smith
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As a jazz subgenre, soul-jazz began to flourish in the early 1960s. A groove-oriented style built from the bottom up, soul-jazz usually begins with the bass player: You take a strong bass line, establish a steady groove between the bass and drums, and then embellish that groove with riffs and melody lines that draw heavily from gospel, blues and R&B. Here are five classic examples.

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This story originally ran Dec. 15, 2008.

Soul-Jazz: Where Jazz, Blues And Gospel Meet

Cover for Jimmy Smith's Finest Hour

Jimmy Smith

  • Album: Jimmy Smith's Finest Hour
  • Song: Got My Mojo Workin'

Jimmy Smith was the master of the Hammond B-3 organ, and he could lay a pretty valid claim to being the father of soul-jazz, as well. Leaving the issue of paternity aside, Smith was certainly present for the birth of the genre. In his blazing 1965 version of "Got My Mojo Workin'" — a song popularized by Muddy Waters in 1957 — Smith plays like a demon and cuts loose with a rare vocal performance. As with most of the songs on this list, it benefits from being cranked up.

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Song
Got My Mojo Workin'
Album
Jimmy Smith's Finest Hour
Artist
Jimmy Smith
Label
Universal/Verve
Released
2000

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The Sidewinder

Lee Morgan

  • Album: Sidewinder [Bonus Track]
  • Song: Sidewinder

To many, "Sidewinder" is the definitive soul-jazz recording. It starts with a strong bass line from Bob Cranshaw and is anchored by drummer Billy Higgins' great groove. Top those guys off with great playing from Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Barry Harris (piano) and trumpeter Lee Morgan, and you've got a going concern. Oddly enough, after "Sidewinder" became popular, Morgan downplayed the track, saying he recorded it as filler for the album, though it's impossible to believe that he was that cynical. With all his talent — and all the beautiful music he had in his head — Morgan had no need to record 10 minutes and 25 seconds of filler, ever. Many jazz musicians want a hit record until they get one, at which point they're kind of embarrassed by it. If the phrase "all killer, no filler" ever applied to a song, it applies to this one.

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Song
Sidewinder
Album
Sidewinder [Bonus Track]
Artist
Lee Morgan
Label
Toshiba EMI
Released
2006

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Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live At 'The Club'

Cannonball Adderley

  • Album: Mercy Mercy Mercy: Live at "The Club"
  • Song: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

This song was a stone-cold crossover hit record, and Cannonball Adderley didn't seem embarrassed by it for a second — nor should he have been. It's a great piece of music, perfectly performed. It's also a prime example of the compositional genius of Adderley's pianist at the time, Joe Zawinul, who would go on to mastermind Weather Report. Adderley was always a soulful alto saxophonist, and did a brilliant job of folding R&B and gospel flavors into his jazz in an effort to appeal to a broad audience.

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Song
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
Album
Mercy Mercy Mercy: Live at "The Club"
Artist
Cannonball Adderley
Released
2004

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The George Benson Cookbook

George Benson

  • Album: George Benson Cookbook [Expanded]
  • Song: Benson's Rider

In the '60s, George Benson was a jazz-guitar monster, and that's putting it mildly. After an apprenticeship with organist Jack McDuff, Benson put out his first album as a leader in 1964, at the age of 21. Two years later, he blew the doors off just about every other jazz guitarist in the world with The George Benson Cookbook, which also featured Dr. Lonnie Smith on organ and Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. It's a stunning record, and this version of the old blues tune "See See Rider" is Benson at his soul-jazz best.

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Song
Benson's Rider
Album
George Benson Cookbook [Expanded]
Artist
George Benson
Label
Sony/Columbia
Released
2001

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The Electrifying Eddie Harris

Eddie Harris

  • Album: Electrifying Eddie Harris
  • Song: Listen Here

Although this 1967 recording by saxophonist Eddie Harris is a wonderful example of soul-jazz, it's also the song on this list that points most strongly toward the coming of jazz/rock fusion in the early '70s. That genre would soon produce The Weather Report, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and other groups that incorporate the spirit of jazz with the possibilities of electricity. In '67, though, Harris was out there pretty much by himself: experimenting with the electric saxophone, creating sounds that hadn't yet been heard, laying down great grooves and generally paving the way for a whole new sound in jazz.

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Song
Listen Here
Album
Electrifying Eddie Harris
Artist
Eddie Harris
Label
Atlantic
Released
2005

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