Soul Jazz

A close relative of Hard Bop, Soul Jazz describes the small, organ-based combos that popped up in the mid 1950s and lasted into the ‘70s. Rooted in the blues and gospel, the music grooved with African-American spirituality.

Most of jazz’s great organists spent time on the Soul Jazz scene: Jimmy McGriff, Charles Earland, Groove Holmes, Les McCann, Donald Patterson, Jack McDuff and Johnny Hammond Smith all led groups in the ‘60s, often playing small rooms with at trio. Tenor saxophone was also prominent, adding a preacher-like voice to the mix; notables included Gene Ammons, Jimmy Smith, Eddie Harris, Stanley Turrentine, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Houston Person. Saxophonists Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman and other members of Ray Charles’ ensembles of the late ‘50s and ‘60s are often regarded as members of the Soul Jazz congregation, as is bandleader Charles Mingus.

Like Hard Bop, Soul Jazz stood in contrast to West Coast: The music evoked passion and a strong sense of community, rather than detachment and emotional coolness. Soul Jazz’s hook-like melodies, along with the frequent use of ostinato bass and repeated rhythm patterns, made the music quite accessible. Hits borne of Soul Jazz include pianist Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd” (1965) and Harris and McCann’s “Compared To What” (1969).

People should be careful not to confuse Soul Jazz with what’s now known as “soul music.” While both share a gospel influence, Soul Jazz grew out of Bebop, and soul music traces directly back to popular r&b.

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