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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Commentary © James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

Steve Allen had hoped to continue his Jazz Scene USA syndication series for a second round of twenty six shows so that the package would contain a year’s worth of programs for potential licensees who wanted to broadcast the series weekly.  The initial budget estimates that Philip Turetsky put together for each show proved to be unreliable and the funding that Steve Allen had set aside forced the series to end after twenty six shows had been taped.

Jazz has been presented on television by numerous hosts, anchors, emcees and presenters over the years but I doubt that none of these equaled the record set by Steve Allen during his tenure on The Tonight Show.  Below is a partial list of jazz and other music artists who appeared on The Tonight Show in 1956 compiled from newspaper listings for the program.

Here is a recap of the eight programs that were issued on VHS by Shanachie Entertainment Corp.  Some of these programs were also issued on DVD and interested fans can seek them out at Amazon, Ebay and other internet sites.

This blog has presented a behind the scenes glimpse of the twenty six programs that defined the state of jazz in the USA in 1962. It has included copies of all of the production scripts that provided the storyline for each of the twenty six episodes that were narrated by Vern Stevenson and Oscar Brown, Jr.  The scripts reveal the twists and turns that occur during a taping, text edited here, a song shortened to fit time requirements, explicit directions for the cameramen, etc.  

Commentary © James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved




Commentary © James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

The jazz artist selected for the last and 26th program in Steve Allen’s JAZZ SCENE USA syndication series was Jimmy Smith.  As noted below in the biographical sketch, Smith had risen in the mid 1950s on the jazz scene and over the course of his recording career with Blue Note Records he had become “the jazz organist” on the American jazz scene.  Below are a sampling of his jazz albums from the label.

The Jimmy Smith Trio program was included in the VHS and DVD releases of shows from Jazz Scene USA. It was coupled with the Phineas Newborn, Jr. program and is available at Amazon as well as other internet sites such as Ebay and

Jimmy Smith became a jazz innovator when, in the mid-fifties, he revolutionized the sound of jazz organ. Heretofore, Wild Bill Davis had been the pied piper who led many a pianist to the organ with his full orchestral sound and big band emulation. It was Jimmy Smith, however, who gave the organ a new soloing voice in much the same way Louis Armstrong gave new life to the trumpet. Born in Norristown, PA on December 8, 1928, Jimmy revealed his musical talent early. His parents both played piano and encouraged him in the boogie-woogie and stride styles of the day. Jimmy made his professional debut at age fourteen in a father/son dance team and joined the navy a year later to serve in WW II. His GI bill helped him attend Ornstein's School of Music in Philadelphia where his undeniable talent was acknowledged. He studied both piano and bass and admired Art Tatum for technique and a myriad of saxophonists for expression. In 1951, Jimmy joined drummer Don Gardner and his Sonotones but soon felt confined as merely a Rhythm and Blues pianist. Fascinated with the organ, he went to see Wild Bill Davis at the Harlem Club in New Jersey. Jimmy began playing in the style of Bill Davis while with Don Gardner but felt compelled to do more. By 1954, he bought his own Hammond organ and placed it in the warehouse where he and his father worked as plasterers. Every day Jimmy would practice his new ideas on the organ, developing horn lines with never before heard registrations. One day he emerged from that warehouse with a truly original sound. His debut at Spider Kelley's Club drew great approval and in 1956, when Jimmy's trio opened at Greenich Village's Café Bohemia, the word quickly got out that this was, in fact, the new sound in jazz organ.

Jimmy's career advanced rapidly as Blue Note recording sessions fueled his notoriety. He literally became the jazz organist to chase as more and more pianists switched to the organ. Jimmy's trio played the Newport Jazz Festival and the Cannes Festival in France. He added more musicians to his recording sessions as the hits began to compile. Back at the Chicken Shack , The Sermon and Midnight Special all became anthems for budding jazz organists to learn. Television captured the Jimmy Smith experience for Philadelphians in 1961. Downbeat magazine voted him their 'Misc Category' winner in 1962 and by 1963, Jimmy was making commercially successful orchestral recordings for Verve Records. 

© Pete Fallico, JJA 2004

Oscar Brown, Jr. promoted two of Jimmy Smith’s LPs on the show, first his Fats Waller album on Blue Note and second the orchestral album with arrangements by Oliver Nelson that included the version of WALK ON THE WILD SIDE that became a chart topper for Jimmy Smith.

The entire Jazz Scene USA show is currently available on YouTube and fans should catch it before it is taken down as frequently happens on the channel.

Jimmy Smith, Hammond B-3 organ; Quentin Warren, guitar and Donald Bailey, drums.

Production credits: 
Host: Oscar Brown, Jr. 
Executive Producer: Steve Allen 
Producer: Jimmie Baker 
Director: Steve Binder 
Associate Producer: Penny Stewart 
Associate Director: George Turpin 
Technical Director: Dick Hall 
Lighting Director: Leard Davis 
Audio: Larry Eaton 
Art Director: Robert Tyler Lee 
Jazz Consultant: John Tynan
Title Films: Grant Velie 

Cameras: Bob Dunn, Ed Chaney, Gorman Erickson, Pat Kenny