Filed Under:  Entertainment

The Doctor is in the house

24th November 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

“To be honest, Dr. Lonnie could walk on that stage by himself – it would be enough,” says drummer Joe Dyson who will perform with Hammond B-3 organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith at Snug Harbor on Friday, November 28, and Saturday, November 29.

When he was just an 18-year-old high school student, the young drummer first had an opportunity to play with Smith, 72, a legendary veteran. “I’ll be a fresh 25 when we perform (on the weekend),” humorously declares Dyson, who hits the quarter of a century mark on Thanksgiving Day.

Donald Harrison Jr., who will also dig in as a member of the band at Snug, was the first connection between Dyson and Smith through the Tipitina’s Internship Program. The internationally acclaimed saxophonist not only invited Dyson to join Smith on stage at the TIP’s students’ session but gave him the call when illustrious drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts was unable to perform at Smith’s 2008 gig at San Francisco’s noted jazz club Yoshi’s.

“I was nervous,” Dyson admits. “He played “Chero­kee” really, really fast and said, ‘Are you ready? Let’s go!’ Later, he said, ‘I think you’ve got the gig.’”

Not long after that initial engagement, Dyson began touring regularly with Smith. The drummer did so throughout his college years and continues to be on call with the organist leading to this summer’s European tour.

The privilege of working with such an extraordinary jazz musician is not lost on Dyson. He’s well aware that Smith is a very special musician and human being in this universe.

“With him it’s just very dynamic,” Dyson explains. “There’s never a dull moment. I’m at the edge of my ‘throne’ every time and I’m constantly honed in on him. He’s always throwing things at you and sometimes he’s listening to you too. It’s a thrilling ride and he knows how to take the audience with him.”

New Orleans has been fortunate that the oh-so-soulful Dr. Lonnie Smith has been a regular visitor to this city. He gave a stellar performance at the 2014 Jazz Fest and played at Snug Harbor about this same time last year. Dyson was expertly manning the drums at both gigs.

With a turban wrapped around his head, a smile on his face and his eyes gleaming, the illustrious jazz organist always appears to be enjoying himself and that translates directly to his bandmates and audiences. “Actually, I think I’ve got a house down there somewhere,” Smith once quipped about his frequent appearances in the city. “There’s something about New Orleans that makes you feel like you’re home.”

“Dr. Lonnie is a very loving person,” Dyson offers. “He’s always trying to bring a smile on someone’s face whether it’s through a joke or through his words or acts of kindness. He’s always exuding love. It’s something I learn every day when I’m around him and something to think about when I’m not around him. He’s always pulling energy out of you and you’re constantly getting energy from him as well.”

Dyson, who is a longtime member of Donald Harrison Jr.’s band, one of the founders of The Bridge Trio with pianist Conun Pappas and bassist Max Moran and regularly heard with trumpet and keyboard innovator Nicholas Payton, finds playing with Smith’s organ-based unit a smooth transition. Not having a bassist in the rhythm section is definitely not a concern.

“He’s very fluent in his left foot – he’s a bassist all on his own,” Dyson explains.

“It’s a very open place when we (the sidemen) walk on stage. The only thing that is required of us is to come with open minds and open hearts making sure that we are there for a greater purpose using our energy to elevate the hearts and minds of the people.”

Dyson got a taste of Dr. Lonnie Smith’s twinkling personality the first time he heard him play at the Tipitina’s student’s session.

“This mysterious character walked in with Donald (Harrison) all in black wearing a turban. He kept playing with the drawbars (devices on the Hammond B-3 organ that manipulate volume) going back and forth,” Dyson remembers. “This went on for some time. We finally realized that this was a joke and that he was messing with us. Then he played “Giant Steps.” It was a jaw dropper for me because I come from a church background – my father played organ – and I had never seen anyone as masterful on everything on the organ.”

Though 47 years separate the youthful Joe Dyson and the veteran Dr. Lonnie Smith, they move in they same soulful and rhythmic realm. Smith acts as the wise, inventive and ever-exuberant guru with the talented Dyson wide-open to all he can absorb from his mentor. With saxophonist Harrison’s bebop roots and exploratory blowing in the mix and the always tasteful guitar of Detroit Brooks, the gig at Snug Harbor is not to be missed.

“I’m a part of Dr. Lonnie because I’m a student of Dr. Lonnie,” says Dyson.

“I’m very grateful that he’s allowed me to be a part of his world. It’s a blessing.”

Smith, who has performed his magic for over five decades, is at once old school and a musician with an ear to the future. With a spirit of abundant generosity, the renowned organist offers an essential spirituality that is core to great jazz music. He’s also full of groove and fun.

“I hum when I play,” he once explained with a laugh. “I don’t even know it’s going on. I hear this guy singing and it’s me. I don’t even invite him. He don’t even ask; he just comes right in. That comes from deep down in the soul.”

“The organ is like the sunlight, rain and thunder – it’s all the worldly sounds to me.”

This article originally published in the November 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.