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Dr. Lonnie Smith: But Beautiful

By Published: October 22, 2012
AAJ: What advice would you give an aspiring musician in high school today?

DLS: First, I'd like to talk to them to find out just how much they really want to do it. I look for that glow in their eyes. I look for the passion that I get from them. There will be obstacles to work through. You have all kinds of musicians but the ones who stick it out really have a passion for it. Some people do it, they just go to work, they're not doing something that they really want to do, or they're looking at the clock or their watches, and then they come home and they're mad, they're angry-they're not happy.

You know, a lot of musicians want to be rich and famous. When you're playing music, you're already fulfilled. You're already rich. You have everything right there. But they get the wrong idea and try to use it for something-because they want to do this or they want to do that. Only play the music. You'll be rewarded. Just play the music.

Don't get disgusted or discouraged because there will be a lot of obstacles you will have to go through: People lying to you and saying you can't play or your stuff doesn't sound right. Sometimes you don't sound great. Sometimes you practice and you don't sound great. But that's the time you push a little harder. You don't give up. Don't throw it away.

AAJ: Who do you admire on a personal level, outside of the music business?

DLS: My parents. My mother. Oh my goodness, we would sing in the house. My cousins, my aunts, my uncles, all sang gospel music, spiritual music, so they would come over and we would crank up. We would start singing. My mother, her sisters and her mother had a mother/daughter quartet and used to sing on the radio every week. That inspired me so much. So much.

And then one fellow stuck out, really, and his name is Art Kubera. He made it happen. He made it happen, all of my dreams. He was my angel. He took the chance. He is the one who I think about all the time, him and another one of my teachers, Mazie Campbell. She had a classroom and just about everybody in that classroom played music except me. And to this day, I go see them or I call them, still today. They're living and we talk. It's beautiful. They're watching me. They're with me all the time, these people I'm talking about. Can you imagine that? Those angels are still there. Jimmy Sibly, Jimmy Boyd, those people that took a chance and stuck with me and believed in me, they're still here with me, as far as I'm concerned. Jimmy Boyd left us and Jimmy Sibly's still here. I call him. I can't forget those people. Isn't it beautiful?

That's what keeps me going. Those are the things that keep me going. Oh, it just makes me feel good to even think about it, you know?

AAJ: Is there something else that you would like to talk about?

DLS: Yes. You know how some people have something in their mind that they really want to do? This has been bothering me for years, and it's going to keep bothering me until it happens.

I'll make it happen, or somebody will. But I really want to make it happen: A retreat, a place for jazz musicians, all our old friends. I've seen them constantly play and they're going to play until they can't play anymore or some of them are told by their doctors that they can't travel. A place where they don't have to worry about rent, don't have to worry about health insurance, because we would offer internships to doctors and lawyers so they could help out.

We could have an annex where the students are, and they could pay to help keep it going. You never get too old to teach. You can teach them, put them on the right direction. Teach them not just about the music that we play but the business that they have to learn. Sometimes it's too late by then. They're beat. They've lost everything, they've been drained, they've been swindled, someone has taken everything that they've got, all their beautiful music, everything. But they're learning it from this place. You see?

Now, if you got all of our friends right there at this place, maybe they can't play the way they used to but we could still do concerts there. They can still get up and play. And people will come see them and not say, "Well, so and so is not playing the way that he used to play." They won't lose their dignity or anything because everyone knows why everyone is there in the first place. And what would make them happier than for them to see their musical family and relations right there? They could sit around and talk about years ago. Things that happened and how we can make it better. What a lovely way to go. What a lovely way to go.

AAJ: That sounds like heaven on earth, doesn't it?

DLS: It is. It is. Because you're going to play and every time they pick their instrument up you can see the smile on their face even though they know that they can't play the way they used to. That's what I want to do. I have a few organs and I'd like to donate those to the school, for starters. That's what I want to do.

Selected Discography:

Dr. Lonnie Smith, The Healer (Pilgrimage, 2012)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Spiral (Palmetto, 2010)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jungle Soul (Palmetto, 2006)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Too Damn Hot! (Palmetto, 2004)

Rodney Jones
Rodney Jones
Rodney Jones
, Soul Manifesto (Blue Note, 2001)

Jimmy McGriff, McGriff's House Party (Milestone, 1999)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, The Turbanator (32 Jazz, 1991)

George Benson, Benson Burner (Columbia, 1976)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Live at Club Mozambique (Blue Note, 1970)

Lou Donaldson, Everything I Play is Funky (Blue Note, 1970)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Turning Point (Blue Note, 1969)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Think! (Blue Note, 1968)

Lou Donaldson, Alligator Boogaloo (Blue Note, 1967)

Photo Credit

Page 1: Phrazz

Page 3: Michael Wartell

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