Dr. Lonnie Smith – Soul Jazz Groove
19th November 2012 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
“Actually, I think I’ve got a house down there somewhere,” quips B3 organ giant Dr. Lonnie Smith who has delighted New Orleans audiences often in recent years. “There’s something about it that makes you feel like that — like you’re home.”
A native of New York who presently resides in Florida, Smith, 70, performs at Snug Harbor on Saturday, November 24, with longtime-collaborator saxophonist Donald Harrison, guitarist Detroit Brooks and drummer Joe Dyson. The same ensemble will board the Norwegian Star the next day to play the inaugural New Orleans Music & Heritage Cruise.
Smith, who gained serious recognition in 1966 when he joined guitarist George Benson’s quartet, has an affinity not only to this city but especially with its musicians. Smith and Harrison are a perfect combo as both stand as inventive modern jazz artists who enjoy a groove.
“We’re like family,” the organist says of his relationship with Harrison with whom he’s also recorded. “Some people are great musicians but can’t play together. Donald fits right in there with you. Whatever he plays it’s like he owns it. A lot of musicians play and they play well but they miss playing what’s in their hearts. Donald plays that. He’s playing honestly.”
Smith appreciates New Orleans drummers having performed with some of the best including the great Idris Muhammad and Herlin Riley. “Joe Dyson is keeping that surge right up,” says Smith, who has taken the young drummer on tour. “He’s on the mark. He’s not going to drop the baton.
“In New Orleans they’re not afraid to keep that feeling of fire,” Smith continues. “There is a certain kind of feeling that is there at all times — they’re always thinking about the heartbeat, the feeling that you want to dance. They never forget that.”
Smith grew up in a musical family and began his musical explorations as a vocalist. Singing with several groups in the mid-1950s, he put that aside to concentrate on the organ. Apparently, a bit of his early experiences lingers.
“I hum when I play,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t even know it’s going on. I hear this guy singing and it’s me. Like I say, ‘Could you have him shut when I play.’ I don’t even invite him. He don’t even ask; he just comes right in. That comes from deep down in the soul.”
During the over five decades of his career, the soulful organist has performed with a who’s who of jazz notables and has been featured as a leader and sideman on some 70 releases. This year, he released his latest album, The Healer, on his Pilgrimage Records label and he promises to perform material from the disc at his date at Snug Harbor. The title, The Healer, is relevant to Smith’s musical philosophy and the power of music.
“You have to be true to the music, good to the music and it will be good and true to you,” he explains. “A lot of musicians get into music because they want to be rich, famous or all of the above. You are already rich once you sit down and learn to play. That’s richness in itself. You touch a lot of people; you heal a lot of people. It’s a very potent thing. It is very powerful because it helps bring the world closer together.
“The organ is like the sunlight, rain and thunder,” Smith once said. “It’s all the worldly sounds to me.” He reiterated that sentiment adding, “It has all the elements. That’s the way I hear it, that’s the way I play it.”
For audiences listening to the magnificently warm and exciting Dr. Lonnie Smith, that’s just how it sounds.
Thanksgiving at the Fair Grounds
A very festive atmosphere and a sense of tradition prevail at the opening of the thoroughbred racing season on Thanksgiving Day at the Fair Grounds Race Track. People from all walks of life from regular “rail birds” to well-dressed families with kids in tow can be spotted.
On Thursday, November 22, 2012, the Fair Grounds celebrates the beginning of its 2012-2013 season. The day marks the 114th Thanksgiving opening of the track in its impressive 141-year history. Notably, on March 30, 2013 the season also ends on a particularly special note when the Fair Grounds commemorates the 100th running of the Louisiana Derby with a festival to include music in and viewing of the races from the infield.
Post time for the first of 10 races on Thanksgiving is at 11 p.m., which is earlier than usual and allows time to get home to feast. The grandstand admission, which allows both indoor and outdoor race watching, is free. Clubhouse admission $10 and clubhouse dining starting at $65 per person.
For some unknown and various reasons, Thanksgiving Day at the Fair Grounds seems to be a particular draw for musicians and those from New Orleans’ artistic community. “A lot of people go because it’s another opportunity to mask,” says sousaphone player/UNO adjunct professor Matt Perrine, referring to those who put on the Ritz for the occasion. “I go because all my friends go,” says Perrine, who one year dressed as a member of the press ala the 1940s. On a more serious he note he offers, “Going to the races has been a part of the American culture for a long time.”
In New Orleans, going to the races on Thanksgiving Day has been a tradition for 114 years.
This article originally published in the November 19, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.