Dr. Lonnie Smith has long been respected as a composer, musician, performer, and recording artist. Since the beginning of his career at Columbia Records and the upheaval of the jazz scene in New York City, Dr. Smith has been taking audiences by surprise with his innate talent on the Hammond B-3 Organ. Having come up playing with greats such as Grant Green, the organ master has come to share his unique perspective on his world of music to people across the planet earth, so often frequenting the city of New Orleans. Today, his love for the city has grown exponentially, as Dr. Lonnie Smith continues to uphold the essence of jazz music in all its soul and purity.
As a child Dr. Smith was highly influenced by one great musician in particular, New Orleans’ own Fats Domino. He and his friends would go see his big bus when he strolled into town, and listen to all his records even though they weren’t playing music yet. “A friend of mine when I was young they had a piano there, and I would listen to the songs and I would try to emulate that,” Dr. Smith describes. As he grew older Dr. Lonnie Smith played trumpet and tuba in the school band, though had not learned to read music. “I just played in the school band,” he says. “I knew how to do that because I had my own way of doing it just like I was from New Orleans or something,” the organist explains with a laugh.
You see, he views music as something that should be played more with the soul and not by a bunch of notes. To Dr. Lonnie Smith, the Crescent City embodies that soul by teaching kids early on the art of music, and simply how the entire city is a happy place that loves doing its own thing. “That’s the thing about the New Orleans heritage, the kids and things they’re so into the art of music and I mean it just makes people happy, ya know. That feeling is honest, you can’t beat that feelin,” he says. “It is honest and that’s the way I started,” he concludes.
At the age of 21, Dr. Lonnie was still in his hometown of Buffalo, New York where he’d go into a music store and play just so that he could teach himself the art in order to one day make a living. One day the owner Art Kubera, let a young Lonnie Smith into the back of the shop after closing where he revealed to him a Hammond B3 Organ. “He said ‘If you can get this out of here its yours,” Smith then recalls, “That was my angel.” It wasn’t but a year after that Lonnie Smith was being asked to sit in with none other than jazz guitarist Grant Green in New York City. “When I went down to get off the organ Grant Green say ‘Don’t you leave, you stay right there on the organ,’” says Smith. “They had asked me to record with ‘em before,” he explains, “I had only been playing a year,” he tells laughing.
Today, Dr. Lonnie Smith performs with many different artists and will be performing with the Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio at this year New Orleans and Jazz Heritage Festival. “What I always try to do is I always try to keep the music fresh,” says Smith. ”I try to keep the element of surprise there. I can go wherever I wanna go and they’ll be there,” he says of the rest of the trio, compromised of Johnson Kreisberg on guitar, and Joe Dyson on drums. Whatever they play, crowds can be guaranteed they’re hearing a unique one of a kind masterpiece, one that is filled with soul, attitude, and the spirit of New Orleans. As Dr. Lonnie Smith describes, “You know like flowers that bud, that’s how the musicians come outta there with soul and feeling.”