Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith and his Octet to Perform Nov. 21 at Schwab
Musician, composer, performer and recording artist Dr. Lonnie Smith, a master of the Hammond B-3 organ for more than half a century, fronts his “In the Beginning” octet in concert at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 21, in Penn State’s Schwab Auditorium. Smith’s been featured on 70-plus albums — more than 20 as a bandleader — and recorded and performed with many of the greatest jazz, blues and R&B musicians of his time.
In addition to Smith, the octet features trumpeter Andy Gravish, tenor saxophonist John Ellis, alto saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith, baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall, guitarist Ed Cherry, drummer Joe Dyson and conga player Kahlil Kwambe Bell.
The octet’s name was inspired by the title of a Smith composition on the group’s new album, which features original material that the organist wrote and recorded throughout his career on albums that are now out of print.
Smith’s mother immersed him in gospel, blues and jazz. He played the trumpet in school. As a teen, he was also a doo-wop singer. After teaching himself to play the Hammond B-3, Smith began performing in Buffalo jazz clubs, where he caught the attention of guitarist George Benson.
Smith gained recognition as a member of Benson’s quartet. He made his first album as a leader — “Finger Lickin’ Good” — for Columbia Records in 1966. From there he recorded several epic Blue Note albums, including the million-seller “Alligator Boogaloo,” with saxophonist Lou Donaldson. Blue Note soon inked Smith to his own contract, a deal that would produce the soul jazz classics “Think!”, “Turning Point,” “Move Your Hand,” “Drives” and “Live at Club Mozambique.”
Smith conveys such joy at the keyboard that it sometimes seems as though the music doesn’t come from him but passes through him. “Before I start playing, it’s almost like I do not know anything about that instrument. But when I start playing, it’s like it draws me to it and expression comes out of me,” he said. “ … It’s like a burning fire. It’s like electricity that goes through my body, my whole body, when I play.”
Smith, who began using “Dr.” before his name in the 1970s, has insatiable musical tastes. He’s recorded covers of music by the Beatles, the Stylistics and the Eurythmics — plus tribute albums to Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane and Beck.
Tickets for Smith's concert are available online by clicking HERE or by phone at (814) 863-0255 or (800) ARTS-TIX. Tickets are also available at four State College locations: Eisenhower Auditorium (weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Penn State Downtown Theatre Center (weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), HUB-Robeson Center Information Desk (weekdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Bryce Jordan Center (weekdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.). A grant from the University Park Allocation Committee makes Penn State student prices possible.
Artistic Viewpoints, an informal moderated discussion featuring Smith and Hendrickson-Smith, is offered in Schwab one hour before the performance and is free for ticket holders.