A classic example of funky urban jazz was new on the US album chart on 28 December 1968 for the great organ player Jimmy McGriff. The Worm, led off by the suitably slinky and persuasive title track written by the frontman with Sonny Lester and Fats Theus, was released on Solid State, the company Lester ran with producer Phil Ramone. It’s now available via the hallowed Blue Note label.
Recorded in sessions in New York in the summer of 1968, the album was credited to McGriff and his Organ and Blues Band and produced by Lester. It’s widely respected as an early example of the way that jazz was beginning to acknowledge the evolving influences of the fledgling sound of funk music. Indeed, the lead track had such crossover appeal that, as the album premiered, it was on its way to the top 30 of the R&B chart. “It’s right in today’s bag,” enthused the Billboard review.
As a soloist, McGriff himself had certainly never sounded more spontaneous or expansive. His nimble B-3 lead lines generously shared the spotlight with the saxophones of Theus, Danny Turner and Robert Ashton, other featured players including Thornel Schwartz on guitar and the trumpet maestro Blue Mitchell. New material, chiefly written by Jimmy himself, rubbed shoulders with covers such as Aretha Franklin’s ‘Think’ and Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Take The ‘A’ Train.’
As a measure of how jazz could claim a place in the mainstream industry of the time, The Worm entered Billboard’s Top LPs chart at No. 165, in between albums by Bob Dylan and country favourite Eddy Arnold. The same week, it debuted strongly on the Best Selling Jazz LPs list at No. 16.
It was the fifth time that McGriff had made the pop album listings, in a sequence going back to 1962’s I’ve Got A Woman. This new set spent a solid 19 weeks on the survey, climbing as high as No. 161 in March, 1969.
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