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Jimmy McGriff

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One of the all-time giants of the Hammond B-3, Jimmy McGriff (April 3, 1936 — May 24, 2008) sometimes gets lost amid all the great soul-jazz organists from his hometown of Philadelphia. He was almost certainly the bluesiest of the major soul-jazz pioneers, and indeed, he often insisted that he was more of a blues musician than a jazz artist; nonetheless, he remained eclectic enough to blur the lines of classification. His sound — deep, down-to-earth grooves drenched in blues and gospel feeling — made him quite popular with R&B audiences, even more so than some of his peers; what was more, he was able to condense those charms into concise, funky, jukebox-ready singles that often did surprisingly well on the R&B charts. His rearrangement of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” was a Top Five R&B hit in 1962, and further hits like “All About My Girl,” “Kiko,” and “The Worm” followed over the course of the ’60s. McGriff spent much of the ’70s trying to keep pace with the fusion movement, switching to various electric keyboards and adopting an increasingly smooth, polished style. As the ’80s dawned, McGriff gave up trying to sound contemporary and returned to his classic organ-trio sound; as luck would have it, vintage soul-jazz soon came back into vogue with a devoted cult of fans and critics, and McGriff was able to recover his creative vitality and take his place as one of the genre’s elder statesmen.

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