Lonnie Liston Smith Biography

28 December 1940, Richmond, Virginia, USA. Not to be confused with the soul/jazz organist Lonnie Smith. Born into a very musical family, Smith seemed destined from a very early age to make music his career. His father and two brothers were all vocalists, but it was the keyboard that attracted Smith. After studying at Morgan State University, he moved to New York and immersed himself in the city’s thriving jazz scene. Accompanying Betty Carter for a year in 1963, Smith soon became a highly sought-after pianist, working with successive jazz stars, from Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1964-65), Art Blakey (1966-67), and Joe Williams (1967-68), through to Pharoah Sanders (1969-71), Gato Barbieri (1971-73), and finally Miles Davis (1972-73).

In 1973, Smith formed the Cosmic Echoes and released the all-instrumental Astral Traveling. The following year’s Cosmic Funk introduced his brother Donald as vocalist. Playing a very popular soft fusion, Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes recorded a number of successful albums and remained popular throughout the mid-70s. Despite a number of personnel changes, they landed another major label recording contract in 1978 when they switched to Columbia Records. Growing increasingly commercial, the new-look unit enjoyed a minor R&B hit with ‘Space Princess’ (from Exotic Mysteries). The album was the last of this era to feature Donald Smith, with James ‘Crabbe’ Robinson taking his place on A Song For The Children and Love Is The Answer. Smith reunited with his brother when the Cosmic Echoes moved to the Doctor Jazz label, but despite enjoying a minor hit with the vocal track ‘Never Too Late’ the unit ground to a halt in the mid-80s.

In 1991, after some time out of the spotlight, Smith recorded a high-quality album, Magic Lady, and embarked on a European tour (including the UK). In recent times Smith has shared his performing duties with his role as a teacher at various workshops. He reunited with his brother Donald on 1998’s Transformation.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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