The jazz organ has a fairly basic family tree: after a few others had toyed with the instrument, Jimmy Smith (who plays this week at the Jazz Buffet) made it shout, and everyone else follows from there. But don’t let that generalization hide the real distinctions along the trail Smith blazed on his trusty Hammond B-3. Among those, Jimmy McGriff has carved one of the most impressive niches. None of his contemporaries, except perhaps the late “Groove” Holmes, has made more imaginative use of the elements that Smith fused so successfully: church music, urban blues, and hard-bop’s high-spirited sophistication. The Hammond organ plays a wonderful aural trick on its listeners–its billowy sound and the long decay of its notes make fast passages sound even faster, as if the lines were piling up on each other–and McGriff exploits this differently from Smith, using it for emphasis rather than brute force. His lines breathe considerably more; he sounds less like a man at work and more like a man at play. (And not just to me, apparently; the Chicago organist Charles Earland, who started as a tenor saxist in McGriff’s band in the 60s, switched instruments because the leader seemed to be having so much fun.) McGriff’s latest album, a collaboration with the soul-drenched saxist Hank Crawford, has scored big around the country; his quintet, which includes saxist Jerry Weldon, should have no trouble meeting expectations. Tuesday through next Sunday, October 16, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Barbara Pease.