Lonnie Smith (jazz musician)

Lonnie Smith (born July 3, 1942), styled Dr. Lonnie Smith, is an American jazz Hammond B3 organist who was a member of the George Benson quartet in the 1960s. He recorded albums with saxophonist Lou Donaldson for Blue Note before being signed as a solo act. He owns the label Pilgrimage.

Lonnie Smith
Smith in New York City, December 24, 2007
Background information
Born (1942-07-03) July 3, 1942
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, soul jazz, funk
Years active1960–present
LabelsColumbia, Blue Note, Kudu, Groove Merchant, T.K., Criss Cross, Palmetto, Pilgrimage
Associated actsGeorge Benson

Early life

He was born in Lackawanna, New York,[1] into a family with a vocal group and radio program. Smith says that his mother was a major influence on him musically, as she introduced him to gospel, classical, and jazz music.


He was part of several vocal ensembles in the 1950s, including the Teen Kings which included Grover Washington Jr., on sax and his brother Daryl on drums.[2] Art Kubera, the owner of a local music store, gave Smith his first organ, a Hammond B3.[3]

George Benson Quartet

Smith's affinity for R&B melded with his own personal style as he became active in the local music scene. He moved to New York City, where he met George Benson, the guitarist for Jack McDuff's band. Benson and Smith connected on a personal level, and the two formed the George Benson Quartet, featuring Lonnie Smith, in 1966.

Solo career; Finger Lickin' Good

After two albums under Benson's leadership, It's Uptown and Cookbook, Smith recorded his first solo album (Finger Lickin' Good Soul Organ) in 1967, with George Benson and Melvin Sparks on guitar, Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax, and Marion Booker on drums. This combination remained stable for the next five years.

After recording several albums with Benson, Smith became a solo recording artist and has since recorded over 30 albums under his own name. Numerous prominent jazz artists have joined Smith on his albums and in his live performances, including Lee Morgan, David "Fathead" Newman, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Blue Mitchell, Joey DeFrancesco and Joe Lovano.[3]

Blue Note Records

In 1967, Smith met Lou Donaldson, who put him in contact with Blue Note Records. Donaldson asked the quartet to record an album for Blue Note, Alligator Bogaloo. Blue Note signed Smith for the next four albums, all in the soul jazz style, including Think! (with Lee Morgan, David Newman, Melvin Sparks and Marion Booker) and Turning Point (with Lee Morgan, Bennie Maupin, Melvin Sparks and Idris Muhammad).

Smith's next album Move Your Hand was recorded at the Club Harlem in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in August 1969. The album's reception allowed his reputation to grow beyond the Northeast. He recorded another studio album, Drives, and another live album (unreleased at the time), Live at Club Mozambique (recorded in Detroit on May 21, 1970), before leaving Blue Note.

He recorded one album in 1971 for Creed Taylor's CTI label, which had already signed George Benson. after a break from recording, he then spent most of the mid-1970s with producer Sonny Lester and his Groove Merchant and then LRC labels. It resulted in four albums, with the music output veering between jazz, soul, funk, fusion and even the odd disco-styled track.

Dr. Smith became a part of the Blue Note family once again in March 2015. He released his first Blue Note album in 45 years titled Evolution which was released January 29, 2016 featuring special guests: Robert Glasper and Joe Lovano. His second Blue Note album All in My Mind was recorded live at "The Jazz Standard" in NYC (celebrating his 75th birthday with his longtime musical associates: guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake), and released January 12, 2018.

Tours and performances

Smith toured the northeastern United States heavily during the 1970s. He concentrated largely on smaller neighborhood venues during this period. His sidemen included Donald Hahn on trumpet, Ronnie Cuber, Dave Hubbard, Bill Easley and George Adams on saxes, George Benson, Perry Hughes, Marc Silver, Billy Rogers, and Larry McGee on guitars, and Joe Dukes, Sylvester Goshay, Phillip Terrell, Marion Booker, Jimmy Lovelace, Charles Crosby, Art Gore, Norman Connors and Bobby Durham on drums.

Smith has performed at several prominent jazz festivals with artists including Grover Washington Jr., Ron Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Lou Donaldson, Ron Holloway, and Santana. He has also played with musicians outside of jazz, such as Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Etta James, and Esther Phillips.[4]

Awards and honors

Personal life

Smith is referred to as "Dr." by fellow musicians because he likes to "doctor" up the tunes with his unique improvisational stylings.


As leader

As sideman

With Eric Allison

  • Mean Streets Beat (Contemporary, 1996)
  • After Hours (Contemporary, 1997)

With George Benson

With Bobby Broom

  • Modern Man (Delmark, 2001)

With Karl Denson's Tiny Universe

  • The Bridge (Relaxed, 2002)

With Lou Donaldson

With Richie Hart

  • Remembering Wes (Compose, 1989)[6]
  • Greasy Street (Zoho, 2005)[7]

With Red Holloway

  • Red Soul (Prestige, 1966)
  • Coast to Coast (Milestone, 2003)

With Javon Jackson

  • A Look Within (Blue Note, 1996)
  • Easy Does It (Palmetto, 2002)
  • Have You Heard (Palmetto, 2004)
  • Now (Palmetto, 2006)

With Rodney Jones

  • Soul Manifesto (Blue Note, 2001)

With Jimmy McGriff

With Jimmy Ponder

With Akira Tana

  • Secret Agent Men (Sons of Sound, 1992)

With Chester 'CT' Thompson

  • Mixology (Doodlin', 2012)


  1. Gilbreath, Mikayla (2008-01-07). "Dr. Lonnie Smith: Organ Guru". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
  2. Bennett, Bill (January/February 2005) "Dr Lonnie Smith - The Doctor Is In". JazzTimes.
  3. Feather, Leonard; Gitler, Ira (2007). The biographical encyclopedia of jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-532000-8.
  4. "Lonnie Smith". Indie Jazz. Radical Moodswinger Music. 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
  5. "Dr. Lonnie Smith | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  6. "Remembering Wes". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  7. "Greasy Street". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 January 2018.
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