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Blues organistCopyright © 2008
One of the cornerstones of the Philadelphia organ sound, Jimmy McGriff died at a nursing home at the age of 72. The cause was heart failure related to multiple sclerosis.
While he was often referred to as a jazz musician, McGriff preferred to be known as a blues organist -- something that he felt set him apart from his former teacher, Jimmy Smith.
The son of two pianists, McGriff learned piano, saxophone and bass, but switched to the organ on the advice of his father, who felt his son had a natural feel for gospel music.
McGriff joined the U.S. Army at the age of 17 and served in Korea as a military police officer for three years. After returning home he was a Philadelphia police officer for two years. He also pursued his musical education at Julliard and the Combe College of Music in Philadelphia, and studied privately with Smith and Richard "Groove" Holmes.
His break came in 1961, when his instrumental cover of Ray Charles' "I've Got A Woman" became a local jukebox hit. That led to his debut album on Sue and a second hit single, "All About My Girl," and subsequent recordings for the Solid State, Blue Note and Groove Merchant labels. He also performed with drummer Buddy Rich's band in the late '60s and early '70s, and owned the Golden Slipper nightclub in Newark, N.J.
In 1986, he formed a popular duo with saxophonist Hank Crawford, and recorded his last album in 2006, a year before his illness forced him to stop playing.