|Dr Lonnie Smith|
We’ve been talking about the connections between South Asian Islam and American music. Well here’s another interesting twist in the spiritual journey of jazz, Sikhism.
Lonnie Smith started out as an R&B singer in a family where music was a big thing. His mother was avid gospel singer and each of his brothers played either guitar or drums. But when Lonnie heard his first Jimmy Smith record he was smitten by the Hammond bug. He didn’t start playing the organ until he was in his 20’s and had been challenged by a music shop owner, “If you can get this (a brand new Hammond B 3 organ) out of here you can have it.”
Completely self taught, Smith was taken under the wing by a hot young jazz guitarist named George Benson, himself the guitarist in Brother Jack McDuff’s (another organ giant) band. Smith worked and recorded with Benson in the early 60’s before signing with Blue Note Records upon the recommendation of the saxophonist, Lou Donaldson. At Blue Note Smith made a series of well selling soul jazz records, including tonight’s selection, Think!
In the mid-70s Smith is reported to have converted to Sikhism, as a small but not insubstantial number of African Americans have over the years. Soon afterwards he started referring to himself as Dr. Lonnie Smith, though he freely admitted he was not academically trained as a PhD. A shy joker with a sparkle ever present in his eye, its hard to know if he’s pulling your leg your not. But since the 70’s he has worn a turban in the Sikh style and Sikhs claim that he has in fact converted to the path of Nanak.
Regardless, the good doctor plays the organ with style and soul. When asked how he could play with such mysterious energy, he replied, “I play life! Some musicians play notes. I play life!”
With Lee Morgan on trumpet, Melvin Sparks on guitar and David ‘Fathead’ Newman on tenor sax, Think! is spectacular 1960s soul jazz. Smith always spoke of how he was attracted to the Hammond B 3 because “it is the rain and the storm, the joy and sadness.” On Think! he shows us what he meant.
Sat Sri Akal, brother!
01 Son Of Ice Bag
02 The Call Of The Wild
04 Three Blind Mice