There’s only ever been a scant few acknowledged masters of the Hammond B-3 organ in jazz at any given time. So few, in fact, that when one leaves the scene — as in 2005, when the great Jimmy Smith passed away — aficionados have been left to wonder whether the instrument has a future in jazz at all.
That questioning has nothing to do with a lack of players, of course. Invented in the 1930s and marketed to churches, where it offered a portable, affordable alternative to the grand wind organs, the Hammond is played with joy and reverence across the land on Sundays. And in jazz, its shaky spot in the canon reflects decisions by record companies over the years — for instance in the 1970s, when organ-led records were lumped under the rubric “soul-jazz” — more than any dearth of creative players, then or now.