Born: Dec 16, 1933 in Louisville, KY
Died: Jun 4, 1997 in Chicago, IL
Styles: Soul-Jazz, Hard Bop
Instruments: Organ, Organ (Hammond)
Actually nicknamed after his instrument, Johnny "Hammond" Smith was perhaps one of the more underrated soul-jazz organists of the style's heyday. Born John Robert Smith in Louisville, KY, on December 16, 1933, Smith began learning piano as a child, idolizing Bud Powell and Art Tatum early on. After moving to Cleveland, Smith heard jazz organ pioneer Wild Bill Davis and decided to switch instruments; he made his professional debut on the organ in 1958, around the same time he was working as an accompanist for vocalist Nancy Wilson. In 1959, he began recording as a leader for Prestige, an association that would last through 1970 and produce highlights like That Good Feelin', Talk That Talk, Black Coffee, Open House, Ebb Tide, and Soul Talk, among others. As time passed, Smith's style got progressively funkier, and in 1971, he shortened his name to Johnny Hammond and moved to producer Creed Taylor's CTI label family. Hammond recorded five jazz-funk albums over the next three years, including Breakout, Wild Horses/Rock Steady, and the Mizell Brothers-helmed Gambler's Life. In 1975, Hammond moved to Milestone and recorded the culmination of his move into jazz-funk, Gears, another collaboration with the Mizell Brothers that was reviled by purists and canonized by acid jazz fans. After a few more sessions for Milestone, Smith largely retired from jazz, settling in Southern California and investing in real estate. He began recording sporadically again in the '90s, but was stricken with cancer and died on June 4, 1997.
- Steve Huey (All Music Guide)