Recorded over two days at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on two late April days, Jimmy Smith’s The Cat simply buzzes with excitement, from the opening bars of Lalo Schifrin’s “Theme From ‘Joy House’” to the moody “Blues In The Night.” As DJ Al Collins wrote in the liner notes of this fabulous album, “Jimmy Smith’s The Cat cuts through grease like fresh battery acid.”
Released on September 14, 1964, the album is filled with consummate Hammond B3 playing, in addition to Lalo Schifrin’s arrangements for big band. “Basin Street Blues” epitomizes 1960s sophistication, while the appropriately super cool “Delon’s Blues” is dedicated to the French actor Alain Delon, who Smith had befriended while on tour in Europe in 1963.
Schifrin conducts the big band that backs Smith and it includes, among others, trumpeters Thad Jones and Ernie Royal, Grady Tate on drums, and Kenny Burrell on guitar. Such was the effect of The Cat it made No.12 on the Billboard Pop charts where it stayed for well over half a year…almost unheard of for a jazz album. The title track also made the lower reaches of the Hot 100. And it’s still proving influential: The album’s title track was sampled by both Pizzicato 5 on “Twiggy Twiggy” and The Orb’s “Perpetual Dawn (Ultrabass 2).”
Critics have always been somewhat patronizing about the album, accusing Smith of being “too commercial.” But it’s hard to dislike this joyful, fabulous record, one that probably got more people listening to jazz than many of its contemporaries.