Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Doctor's Notes: Lonnie Smith's Rejuvenating Jazz

Photo by Luke Ratray

By Cristofer Gross

Photo by Mark Sheldon
To get a preview of Hammond B-3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith's Center debut this weekend, I went back to his 2012 CD, The HealerAgain, I was immediately pulled in by the less-is-more interplay of Smith and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, who along with drummer Johnathan Blake accompanies the organist in Samueli Theater this Friday and Saturday. 

The way they weave together various styles and rhythms produces music that is both immediate and timeless. 

"The sound is a combination," Smith says. "You have fusion, mixed in with hip-hop, jazz, and funk without even thinking or trying to do that." At 71, Smith has clearly gotten the upper hand on time. Whether it's a single song tempo, the signature beat of an era, or his life, there's an energy that comes across. You can't help but feel rejuvenated. "I think his specialty is making people feel something," Kreisberg says. "I've seen an audience rise to their feet and lose their woes. He's almost like a healer, you know, and that's how we got the idea." 

When Ramsey Lewis wanted a segment on the Hammond B-3 for his 13-episode series, Legends of Jazz, in 2006, he invited two greats from two generations: Smith and Joey DeFrancesco, who appeared here a couple years back with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Now it's Smith's turn to show how it's done.

He continues to appeal to artists of every era, with his music recently sampled by Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige. "I don't even think about the age because I don't feel that way," Smith adds. "I'm just doing it and it feels great: Just doing it while I have a chance to do it."

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