By Johnnie-Margaret McConnell
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — For Lonnie Smith, music comes naturally.
“I can sit with you right now and just start playing from something you said. It’s just inside me — its something — like a gift from God,” he said. “I don’t know the organ in my head, but when I sit and hit the first note it gets me going.”
It’s no accident that Smith is a five-time Jazz Journalist Association’s Organ Keyboardist of the Year winner. He’s really that good.
And now, for only the second time, he’s bringing the Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio, including guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jamire Williams, to Oklahoma. The trio concludes the 2012 Heartland Summit Jazz series.
“This is the first time [Smith] has played in Norman,” said Mark Mitchell, chair of the Performing Arts Studio jazz committee. “He plays one long set, around 70 minutes.”
In his fifth decade of playing, Smith has been featured on more than 70 albums with many of the music industry’s jazz, blues and R&B giants, Jim Johnson, host of public radio KGOU’s Weekend Blues program, said. Smith is considered the “forefather of Acid Jazz,” by many.
“To me, what makes Dr. Lonnie Smith such a truly great jazz musician is his sense of groove, very funky, and sonic expression — great tone and voicing,” Johnson said. “I happen to be a huge fan of the period (1960s) of Jazz from which he emerged. Much of the music of the period was funky and raw-edged.”
Johnson said Smith’s musical style can be attributed to his education — or perhaps, his lack thereof. Smith doesn’t read music, Johnson said, and is totally self-taught.
Smith’s talent can be traced back to a musical family.
“It was beautiful. There was so much music around our house. My cousins and everybody came over to our house and we sang gospel music. My mother and I would scat to the music on the radio,” Smith said, taking a few seconds to demonstrate. “We had so much fun. It was so beautiful.”
Finding inspiration in everyday life events, Smith plays by ear.
“I tell my students, ‘You play life,’” he said. “Don’t make such a big deal out of everything — say bills you can’t pay off right now — play that. True feelings, play what’s in your heart. You have nothing but one note — play that.”
Smith is considered a master of the Hammond B-3 electric organ — an electrical organ invented in the 1930s a a cheap alternative to church pipe organs. The Hammond B-3 serial is the most well know due to its inclusion by many jazz and blues keyboard musicians.
Smith’s draw to the organ comes from the instrument’s capability to plan more than one line.
“What I like about the organ that I’m the bassist, soloist and the orchestra,” Smith said, jokingly adding, “Someday I’d like to get paid for playing all the parts.”
The Trio’s performance is made possible through The Performing Arts Studio and Jazz In June Inc. collaboration.
The Heartland Summit Jazz series is made possible by support from the Norman Arts Council, Norman Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma Arts Council, Northeast Blanco Development Corporation, Arrow Gas and Holdings, Midway Market Concert Series, Mark Williams and Fred Overstreet.