He was a Philadelphian by birth. There is a whole lot of “can’t go wrong with that” in that. There is something of the character of the city, and the character that it builds, that sets its creative souls apart and lends a recognizable signature. Bobby Timmons’ roots were like so many others in the church. His father was a minister. There were piano players all around him; both parents and several relatives played, including his sister. He grew up around many who made strong signatures in jazz culture, including the Heath brothers, Tootie, Jimmy, and Percy.
His sound was grounded in the music of the church. It had an unmistakable gospel funkiness and that influenced others, too, including Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis, and Benny Green. As a member of the famed Jazz Messengers, his sound had influence. Another Philadelphian jazz master, Benny Golson, describes it: “He was inventive … He could play bebop and he could play funky — he could play a lot of things, and I thought it was the element that Art [Blakey] needed. He hadn’t [had] … anybody quite like Bobby, who could go here or … there, rather than walking in a single corridor.” Golson also said this about Timmons: “No ego about him … He was always upbeat, never downbeat, and he never maligned anybody unless it was in a humorous way.”
Listen: You can hear it in his own music and in the way he played — an element of humour, like a candy filling inside the notes. Music, grooving and having fun with wit, confidence, and tease. It’s a Philly thing.