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Artist Profiles

Dr. Lonnie Smith: The Doctor is In...

By Published: December 2, 2003
Many of the grooves Dr. Smith laid down on vinyl back in the day have been rediscovered in the CD format, which has led to him gaining status today as a sort of accidental forefather in the acid jazz movement. But while he doesn't believe the concept is new, he doesn't dismiss it, either. "I did what you call acid jazz records when I did 'Psychedelic Pi' with Blue Note," he says with some weariness. "And now they're using these songs that we did years ago and they're coming up with some pretty nice things. Some of them. I won't say all of them. My hat's off as long as people are halfway musical. 'Cause a lot of them don't play instruments - they use drum machines and computers."

After spending just a short time with Dr. Smith, it's clear that he's a passionate, caring man who loves his music and the other musicians who play it. One of his long-term goals is to help build a retirement home for jazz musicians. "Most musicians don't have health insurance, and it's sad. We're always doing benefits because they're in the hospital or they can't afford a funeral. I've been there and I know what it's like to be in the hospital unable to play. So why not have a place for jazz musicians to live? Because for a lot of us, it's not going to be long. If I have to pass, what a lovely way to pass with my friends near me, and we're talking about old times. I have to see this through. It would be so beautiful. And I know it's going to happen because I will not stop until it does."

When Dr. Smith gives advice to young musicians, he emphasizes that they do it because they love it, and if they're seeking fame and fortune they should switch venues. "I had one job my entire life," he remembers. "On the bus home one night I asked myself 'What is it you want to do?' And I said 'I don't care if I make five dollars, (playing music) is what I want to do'." So I did. And believe it or not, I was making less than five dollars a gig when I started!" Dr.Smith laughed heartily at the memory, those wide eyes igniting. Then he became reflective. "But I didn't do it to be popular, or to be rich. You're already rich when you play. It's a gift from God. I was blessed, and you never forget that."

Photo Credit
Mark Sheldon

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