dr. lonnie smith
Dr. Lonnie Smith is an unparalleled musician, composer, performer and recording artist. With a career spanning over five decades, Smith stands as the preeminent Hammond B-3 organist in jazz today. He has been featured on over seventy albums, and has recorded and performed with a virtual “Who’s Who” of the greatest jazz, blues and R&B giants in the industry. Consequently, he has often been hailed as a “Legend,” a “Living Musical Icon,” and as the most creative jazz organist by a slew of music publications. In fact, in April 2017 he receives the nationa's highest honor in when he is named an NEA Jazz Master. At the age of 74, he’s still progressing as an artist, as witnessed by his remarkable new Blue Note album, appropriately titled Evolution. The New York Times recently wrote that Smith “really seems to be up to something bigger than music, and older, and deeper.”
Born in Buffalo, New York in 1942, Smith had an early musical influence in his mother who sparked a love of gospel, blues and jazz music. As a teenager he was introduced to the Hammond organ and began immersing himself in the records of Wild Bill Davis, Bill Doggett and Jimmy Smith as well as paying rapt attention to the church organ. Smith’s first gigs were at the Pine Grill, a Buffalo club where he came to the attention of Lou Donaldson, Jack McDuff and George Benson, eventually joining Benson’s quartet and moving to New York City.
After releasing his debut album Finger Lickin’ Good for Columbia, Smith joined Lou Donaldson’s band and made his first Blue Note appearance on the saxophonist’s hit 1967 album Alligator Boogaloo. Two more Donaldson dates followed (Mr. Shing-A-Ling and Midnight Creeper) before Smith was offered his own Blue Note deal, making his label debut with Think! in 1968. Smith went on to record another four Blue Note albums over the next two years (Turning Point, Move Your Hand, Drives and Live at Club Mozambique) all of which are regarded as soul-jazz classics.
After his first run of Blue Note albums Smith recorded for many labels, most recently his own label Pilgrimage, and his wide-ranging musical tastes have found him covering everyone from John Coltrane to Jimi Hendrix to Beck. Many awards have followed since 1969 when Downbeat named Smith the “Top Organist” of the year, including honors from the Jazz Journalists Association, Buffalo Music Hall of Fame and more.
The Doctor, in talking about his unique organ style, says, “It’s an extension of my being. It’s a part of my lens. It breathes for me; it speaks for me. I feel every bit of the organ. It’s like electricity – a fire that goes through my body. You can feel it vibrate. There’s nothing like it. It lifts me up, it crawls through the pores of the room.”