Before 1950, the organ was not an instrument that you would associate with jazz. Organs were the stuff of hymns and gospel music, not of big bands and bebop combos. However, 1950 saw a bridge form between these two worlds when jump blues maverick Louis Jordan brought in a Hammond organ to use as a novelty in his high-energy outfit, the Tympany Five. Jordan’s keyboardist William “Wild Bill” Davis used the instrument to great success on tracks like “Lemonade” and “Tamburitza Boogie.”


Within a few years, Davis left Jordan to form his own combo, one in which the organ would become the centerpiece. Accompanied by only drums and guitar, Davis played the walking bass lines with his left hand or on pedals. His goal was to use the organ as a replacement for the full sound of a big band.  e trio included another Jordan alumni, legendary drummer “Chris Columbo” (who was featured in this very column in June, 2015). In keeping with the Louis Jordan style, Columbo took a straightforward approach, supporting the organ with simple but hard-swinging shuffl es.  is basic but solid line of attack would become the blueprint for organ drummers to come.



By the 1960s, the Hammond organ had carved out a place for itself within the ever-expanding genre of jazz. Giants of the jazz organ include Jack McDuff , Jimmy McGriff , Groove Holmes, and the mighty Jimmy Smith, who became the biggest name associated with the instrument. Organ drumming specialists like Joe Dukes, Donald Bailey, and Ben Dixon blended together the solid grooves of rhythm and blues with jazz’s inherent lightness, forging a unique approach that we still associate with this special subgenre of jazz.