Dr. Lonnie Smith: But Beautiful
DLS: When I first heard that song, I loved it. It just came to me. I don't know what happened. I knew Harold and called him and said, "Harold, I'm going to play this tune, but it's not going to be the same way." And he said, "Oh, don't worry about it. I know it's going to be nice anyway." He enjoyed it. The original was entirely different-Lee Morgan was with Harold and it was a whole different thing. It doesn't sound like it's the same song.
AAJ: It almost gets kind of a jazz-rock fusion thing going on there. It's certainly light years removed from music like Think or Turning Point, for example.
DLS: Oh, for sure. The strangest thing about Think is that I don't even think about playing those songs. But folks really want to hear that.
AAJ: There's a very spiritual aspect to your music, even down to the title of The Healer. Since so many people were first exposed to the sound of organ through the church organ, was that where you first heard it, too?
DLS: It was in the church. It was in the church for sure. I used to hear that, and I used to hear people like Milt Buckner, Wild Bill Davis, Jimmy Smith, Count Basie-all of 'em. I heard a lot of people play organ. The organ just really touched me in a special place, really touched me. I didn't know that I was going to play organ at all, had no idea that was going to happen until Art Kubera made it happen, and that was it. My brothers and I used to play and I was a vocalist. I wanted to play, but I didn't know I was going to play organ. Didn't have any idea that was going to happen.
AAJ: Is there a connection between music and healing?
DLS: Yes, for sure. I'm going to tell you the story of a friend of mine. He played trumpet, and his name was Bucky Thorpe. He played trumpet in New York. Bucky had a bout with diabetes and lost his legs and the whole bit, but he would still go around and play. And then he had a stroke. He was in the hospital; we would go up to see him and he would just be laying there. We would talk to him but he was just laying there. He couldn't say anything.
So we took a radio up there. With the radio, we heard music, and you could see his fingers moving like he was playing trumpet. He moved his fingers like he was playing. Therefore, I know what music will do.
And I know because I've been sick to the point where I couldn't play, I couldn't walk, and I lost all my playing abilities, and my speaking. When I could walk a little bit, I'd walk past a keyboard and touch it. That's all I could do. That was it. This went on for months. I don't know how long exactly, about six months or so, but then it started to come back. And when it came back, it wasn't what I had in my head. What I had in my head, I couldn't play, it wouldn't come out. But later on, it did, because all the stuff that I had in my head was still there. You see, you have to retrain your thoughts and get it together again.
AAJ: What timeframe are you talking about here?
DLS: Well...a lot of people have all kinds of things that happen. We all have our own stuff. Like, you remember Jimmy McGriff? (Editor's Note: Jimmy McGriff died in 2008 from complications of multiple sclerosis.) Jimmy still played. It just makes you feel good. Somehow, the music will bring you...will help you so much. If you're feeling bad, or troubled with problems, playing music is the healer.
AAJ: That sounds very similar to what happened with Pat Martino, when he had to relearn all his own records.
DLS: Sure. Sure. That's what happens. It will come, but you've got to have it in your head, know exactly what you're doing, and be patient. You've got to be very patient. And you've got to believe: You can't just say that it's going to come back, you've got to believe that it's going to come back. Be patient and work toward it and it will come back.
Oh, it was rough. I remember, I'd be playing sometimes and all of a sudden my articulation and everything just wouldn't work, right in the middle of a song. But it came back, and I'm very pleased with that.
AAJ: There's a lot of Billy Strayhorn and Jimmy Smith music to choose from-why did you select "Chelsea Bridge" and "Mellow Mood" for your repertoire?
DLS: First, when I hear a tune, I hear it all ready before I play it-I hear the tune as though I was playing it. You hear the song and who's playing it, but I hear me playing it. It tells me how I'll play it already, so I don't have to do anything but sit and start playing it then.
If you recall, there was one tune I did by Horace Silver, "Silver's Serenade." (Sings the melody) It just tells me that. I told Horace I was going to do it, and I did it. So I heard "Chelsea Bridge," said, "This is the way that I want to do it," and it works for me.
Now, Jimmy Smith's "Mellow Mood": I used to play it the other way, slower and everything. But then I said, "I feel this way" and I played it that way and it worked for me. It's almost like that song should have been like that [laughs].