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 February 3, 2013 from 11:00pm – 1:00am Monday Eastern Standard Time on WBAI, 99.5 FM in the NYC metro area or streaming online at wbai.org. This installment of Suga’ will feature one of the 2013 NEA Jazz Master recipients, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. This program originally aired in May 2009 and focused on recordings that were sampled by hip hop artists to lead up to the June Hip Hop Takeover.
You can hear a 30-second preview below.
Donaldson has long been an excellent bop altoist influenced by Charlie Parker, but with a more blues-based style of his own. His distinctive tone has been heard in a variety of small-group settings, and he has recorded dozens of worthy and spirited (if somewhat predictable) sets throughout the years.
Donaldson started playing clarinet when he was 15, soon switching to the alto. He attended college and performed in a Navy band while in the military. Donaldson first gained attention when he moved to New York and in 1952 started recording for Blue Note as a leader. At the age of 25, his style was fully formed, and although it would continue growing in depth through the years, Donaldson had already found his sound. In 1954, he participated in a notable gig with Art Blakey, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, and Tommy Potter that was extensively documented by Blue Note and that directly predated the Jazz Messengers. However, Donaldson was never a member of the Messengers, and although he recorded as a sideman in the ’50s and occasionally afterwards with Thelonious Monk, Milt Jackson, and Jimmy Smith, among others, he has been a bandleader from the mid-’50s up until the present.
Donaldson’s early Blue Note recordings were pure bop. In 1958, he began often utilizing a conga player, and starting in 1961, his bands often had an organist rather than a pianist. His bluesy style was easily transferable to soul-jazz, and he sounded most original in that context. His association with Blue Note (1952-1963) was succeeded by some excellent (if now-scarce) sets for Cadet and Argo (1963-1966). The altoist returned to Blue Note in 1967 and soon became caught up in the increasingly commercial leanings of the label. For a time, he utilized an electronic Varitone sax, which completely watered down his sound. The success of “Alligator Boogaloo” in 1967 led to a series of less interesting funk recordings that were instantly dated and not worthy of his talent. These particular Blue Note recordings were often sampled by hip hop artists.
The next show will air on Sunday November 4, 2012 from 11:00pm – 1:00am Monday on WBAI, 99.5 FM in the NYC metro area or streaming online at wbai.org. WBAI’s stream may not be available due to to damage suffered in Hurricane Sandy. Because the station is operating from a remote location, the show may not start exactly at 11, so please be patient if you’re listening live. We’ve decided to make it available on our archives page at the normal air time to make it as available as possible.
During this post-Hurricane Sandy installment, we will feature pianist/keyboardist/producer/arranger/songwriter Onaje Allan Gumbs (pronounced Oh-Nah-Jay), who is one of the music industry’s most respected and talented music collaborators. Gumbs has worked almost three decades with top talent in the musical fields of jazz, R&B/soul, and pop to hone his considerable skills. A partial list includes Woody Shaw, Nat Adderly, Norman Connors, Angela Bofill, Jean Carn, Cassandra Wilson, Marlena Shaw, Sadao Watanabe, Phyllis Hyman (“The Answer Is You” from his 1979 Somewhere in My Lifetime album), Stanley Jordan, Denise Williams, Vanessa Rubin, Jeffrey Osborne, Eddie Murphy, Rebbie Jackson, and Gerald Albright (Live at Birdland West).
In 1974, Gumbs enjoyed one of the highlights of his arranging career when he created a special arrangement of “Stella By Starlight” for the New York Jazz Repertory Company as a part of a concert honoring Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall. That same year, Gumbs performed on (former Suga’ guest) Woody Shaw’s “Moon Moontrane”. Later, he joined forces with trumpeter Nat Adderley and his quintet, contributing to the group’s recordings on the Atlantic and Steeplechase record labels. Steeplechase’s Nils Winter was impressed by Gumbs’ solo improvisations on several of Adderley’s performances and approached the young pianist that same year to record a solo piano album, Onaje. In 1985, Gumbs further heightened his visibility by contributing his arrangement of “Lady in My Life” to guitarist Stanley Jordan’s enormously successful album Magic Touch. The record held the number one spot on Billboard‘s jazz charts for 37 weeks. The pianist recorded two albums for MCA: That Special Part of Me and 1991’s Dare to Dream.
Gumbs received an NAACP Image Award in 2006 in the Outstanding Jazz category for his independent project Remember Their Innocence.
Jazz Improv Magazine selected his Sack Full of Dreams album featuring singer, actor, producer, and director Obba Babatunde as one of the best jazz recordings of 2007.
Hosted, engineered, and produced by Arts Producer Joyce Jones