The Doctor’s first gigs were at Buffalo’s hottest jazz club, the Pine Grill, where he rapidly garnered the attention of folks like Jack McDuff, Lou Donaldson, George Benson and the booking agent Jimmy Boyd. George Benson was looking for an organist for his quartet and enlisted Lonnie. The group soon relocated to New York City, where they quickly established a reputation as innovators in Harlem clubs and throughout the area. After appearing on several Benson albums, Lonnie went on to make his first recording as a leader—Finger Lickin’ Good–for Columbia Records in 1966. Shortly thereafter, Smith was scooped up to record by saxophonist Lou Donaldson, for whom Lonnie would appear on several epic Blue Note LPs, including the million-seller, Alligator Boogaloo. Blue Note clearly liked what they heard and inked the organist to his own recording contract, a deal which would produce the soul jazz classics Think!, Turning Point, Move Your Hand, Drives and Live at Club Mozambique (released many years later).
Since leaving the Blue Note stable in the ‘70s, Dr. Smith has recorded for a slew of record labels, including Kudu, Groove Merchant, T.K., Scufflin’, Criss Cross and Palmetto, ascending the charts many times.
Dr. Smith has been amused to find himself sampled in rap, dance and house grooves while being credited as a forefather of acid jazz. When questioned about his consistent interest in music some consider outside the jazz “mainstream,” Lonnie shrugs. “Jazz is American Classical,” he proclaims. “And this music is a reflection of what’s happening at the time … The organ is like the sunlight, rain and thunder … it’s all the worldly sounds to me!”
And worldly awards have followed. Since 1969, when Downbeat magazine named him “Top Organist” of that year, Dr. Lonnie Smith has won a plethora of critics’ polls as the world’s premier organist/keyboardist. Moreover, he was recently inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, as well as the Jazz Organ Fellowship’s Hall of Fame. In 2012, Dr, Smith launched his own record label Pilgrimage Productions. The Healer, a live recording of Doc’s trio is the first release on his label.
Show produced and engineered by Joyce Jones. Hosted by Joyce Jones and Hank Williams.
Dr. Lonnie Smith will be leading an Octet at the Jazz Standard in New York from August 15-18. For more dates, see the tour schedule on his website. Tune in while we’re on air for a chance to win a pair of tickets to one of the Jazz Standard performances!
Web Extra: Watch the Dr. Lonnie Smith In the Beginning Octet play a live version of “Psychedelic Pi”.
The next show will air on Sunday June 23, 2013 from 11 PM to 1 AM Eastern Standard Time on WBAI Radio, 99.5 FM in the NYC metro area or streaming online at wbai.org. This installment of “Suga’ In My Bowl” will feature an exclusive interview with vibraphonist Roy Ayers. You can hear a short preview of the show below.
First known as one of the most visible and winning jazz vibraphonists of the 1960s, then an R&B bandleader in the 1970s and ’80s, Roy Ayers’ reputation is now that of one of the prophets of acid jazz, a man decades ahead of his time. A tune like 1972’s “Move to Groove” by the Roy Ayers Ubiquity has a crackling backbeat that serves as the prototype for the shuffling hip-hop groove that became, shall we say, ubiquitous on acid jazz records; and his relaxed 1976 song “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” has been frequently sampled. Yet Ayers’ own playing has always been rooted in hard bop: crisp, lyrical, rhythmically resilient. His own reaction to being canonized by the hip-hop crowd as the “Icon Man” is tempered with the detachment of a survivor in a rough business. “I’m having fun laughing with it,” he has said. “I don’t mind what they call me, that’s what people do in this industry.”
Roy Edward Ayers, Jr. was born in Los Angeles, CA on September, 10 1940. He comes by his affinity with music naturally, as his mother Ruby Ayers was a schoolteacher and local piano instructor and his father Roy Sr., a sometimes-parking attendant and trombonist. As often happens in a household filled with the love and the appreciation for music, Roy began to demonstrate his musical aptitude by the tender age of five, by which time he was playing boogie woogie tunes on the piano. He turned to the steel guitar by the age of nice, had stints during his teens playing flute, trumpet and drums before embracing the vibes as his instrument of choice.
Now in his fourth decade in the music business, Ayers, known as the Godfather of Neo-soul, continues to bridge the gap between generations of music lovers. In the 60’s he was an award-winning jazz vibraphonist, and transformed into a popular R&B band leader in the 70’s/80’s. Today, the dynamic music man is an iconic figure still in great demand whose work has been sampled by music industry heavyweights including Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, 50 Cent, A Tribe Called Quest, Tupac, and Ice Cube.
Produced by Joyce Jones and Hank Williams. Hosted and Engineered by Joyce Jones.
Web Extra: Watch Roy Ayers perform “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” live in a tribute to Miles Davis.
Watch The Roy Ayers Project: Upcoming documentary on Roy. Details at their website.