It’s a rare feat for a jazz musician to master the Hammond B-3 organ. With two 61-note keyboards, 25 foot pedals, 18 drawbars, and 91 tone wheels, the B-3 requires a wizardly combination of chops, subtle touch, and supernatural intuition to make it really growl and purr. Dr. Lonnie Smith was just such a wizard.
Over 30 albums and six decades in the music business, Lonnie endured as a jazz organ iconoclast with his fresh blending of soul and funk improvisation – first as a session player for Motown groups and a member of George Benson’s band before going solo in the late 1960s. Foot-stomping grooves, sophisticated harmonics, ethereal atmospherics; he could do and did it all, and his youthful energy, imagination and joy made each live performance unforgettable.
Fitting the spirit, Lonnie’s new album “Breathe” is a live recording – captured at his 75th birthday celebration several years ago at the Jazz Standard in New York City where he played with guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake. It’s the second collection of music to emerge from that evening – an electrifying batch of original songs with his signature kicks and quirks in full effect. The man sounds incredible. And as a wonderful bonus, the album is bookended by two great studio collaborations between Lonnie and legendary vocalist Iggy Pop.
Sadly, though, as we finalized production on this holiday feature, we received the news that Lonnie had passed away at home in Fort Lauderdale. He was 79. Adored by generations of players and fans, revered for his innovative style, and admired as a warm-hearted mentor to young musicians, Lonnie will be sorely missed.