dr. lonnie smith
The marvelous Dr. Lonnie Smith stands tall as the foremost maestro of the Hammond B-3 organ and at the age of 75 still reigns as a master of innovation and experimentation. The 2017 NEA Jazz Master may say that all he does is simply old school, but Smith paints new hues across the canvas of tradition with apolmb, as evidenced on his spirited new live album "All in My Mind". The album is his second for Blue Note since his 2016 return to the legendary label where he made a name for himself in the late 1960s, first as a sideman with saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and soon after as a leader with his own soul-jazz classics.
Smith may have been away from Blue Note for 46 years, but he perfectly fits in with the current mission of label president Don Was to present the future movements of jazz as well as honoring those who forged the tradition. "Dr. Lonnie Smith returns to the Blue Note label with an album that reveals the enduring appeal of organ soul," raved The Wall Street Journal in a review of his 2016 homecoming album Evolution, adding that the album "showcases a variety of organ-soul stylings (and) demonstrates the versatility and currency of the style."
A connoisseur of foot-tapping grooves, sophisticated harmonic voicings, indelible modelicism and ethereal atmospherics, Smith wanted to record "All in My Mind" in a live setting because, as he says, "It's so hard to capture what I'm feeling at the moment in the studio. Hearing me live is catching me playing in the moment. It's a good vibe. It's a loving situation."
A native of the Buffalo area in Western New York who presently lives in the warm climates of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Smith decided to roll tapes during his week-long 75th birthday celebration at one of his favorite clubs, the Jazz Standard in New York City, with his longtime trio of guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jonathan Blake.
"My group is a brotherhood, a dedicated family," Smith says, "They are the heartbeat of the music. They know what I'm trying to do, and they enhance what I play. I play in the moment all the time, and they adjust and are there for me."
Born in 1942, Smith was introduced to the Hammond organ in the late 1950s by Art Kubra, who owned a local music store that Smith would visit daily. He 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 Bension, eventually joining Benson's quartet and moving to New York City.
After the stint with Benson, Smith released his debut album "Finger Lickin' Good" for Columbia in 1967 before joining Donaldson's band and making his first Blue Note appearance on the alto 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 including "Turning Point", "Move Your Hand", and "Drives".
After his first run of Blue Note albums Smith recorded for many lables, 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. In a 2015 live review The New York Times wrote that "he really seems to be up to something bigger than music, and older, and deeper. And hour and a quarter in his presence, and you start thinking about the nature of time, ancestors, the circulatory system."