Lonnie Smith Biography

3 July 1942, Buffalo, New York, USA. Raised amid a musical family, Smith taught himself to play several instruments, including trumpet and tuba, before deciding to concentrate on the piano and, eventually, other keyboard instruments. In time, he settled on organ, becoming a successful practitioner on the Hammond B3. In the 50s, his first professional engagement was as singer in a doo-wop group, the Teen Kings. He continued to work with similar groups as an accompanist. He was heard and encouraged by several noted musicians, including Lou Donaldson, Brother Jack McDuff and George Benson, joining the latter’s band in Pittsburgh. It was with Benson that Smith went to New York in the late 60s, where he soon established his reputation. He worked with several well-known artists, including singers Gladys Knight, Etta James and Dionne Warwick. He also recorded with Benson, Ronnie Cuber, Donaldson, Turk Mauro and Jimmy McGriff.

Throughout his own-name recording career, Smith has followed the habit of hiring noted jazzmen as his sidemen, among whom have been Joe Lovano, Blue Mitchell, Lee Morgan and David Newman. Smith’s decision to spend a substantial part of his career in teaching has meant that his name is not as well known as should be the case for a highly skilled and funky player in the soul jazz organ tradition. Smith has also maintained his other keyboard skills, playing and recording on piano on which instrument he is more firmly in the hard bop tradition. His repertoire and stylistic range is quite broad, as is demonstrated by his mid-90s Venus/Music Masters albums. All three recorded as a trio with John Abercrombie and Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, of which one pays tribute to John Coltrane and the others to Jimi Hendrix. (NB: This artist should not be confused with keyboard player Lonnie Liston Smith.)

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

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