"And I'd love to do something for the Jazz Foundation," he continued. "Wendy [Oxenhorn, Executive Director] and I have been talking and we're trying to ...get a retirement home for jazz musicians. I'm working hard on it, you know, trying to help with that, and trying to get more people involved. Because, you see, most jazz musicians ...do not have any insurance. Nor can they buy a home because they can't prove [their income]. And their job is not steady as per se someone who has a regular job. It's something that they do from the heart. Yeah, I've done some, which is great to do, as long as you're giving back, and you can give the people hope and help also."
Smith went on to describe not only the plight of musicians in general, but also the joy of being a musician. "You know what people really think of musicians! 'Get you a real job!' You know, like it isn't a real job. It's a passion, and you make people happy all around the world. So you can't beat that! I don't think you can, with what they would call a regular job. If you're doing some kind of job where you're making people happy, and you're not angry every time you leave work, then you've got something you love to do."
When asked what it is like working doing his favorite thing, he quickly responded "I don't even know I'm doing it. Because what happens when I play, I'm into another world. It's ...it's like electricity. It goes through my foot to the top of my head. It's so exciting. ...It's a rush for me. It's a passion. It's my love. You know, first love, second love, third love. It's like something that I had to do. I didn't choose it. It chose me."
Toward the end of our discussion, I asked Smith how he felt about playing with younger musicians. After all, an accomplished jazz musician could easily get frustrated with the "wet-behind-the-ears" younger generation. But not Lonnie Smith. He believes in "passing the baton" to younger jazz musicians, "because they are the future. And because, see, we're getting on up there [in age] and ...the young players, as long as they're playing from the heart and really meaning it, ...they can take [jazz] and keep it going on."
And what is his advice to young players? "Play how you feel. That's the way I play. If I'm happy, that's what I play. When you're sad, play just that. That's the beauty in it. I tell my students 'play your day.' If you had a wonderful day, play that. If you had a fair day, play that, and you'll be in tune to yourself! Play life! Yeah... play life!"
Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jungle Soul (Palmetto, 2006)
Dr. Lonnie Smith, Too Damn Hot! (Palmetto, 2004)
Lonnie Smith, Afrodesia (LaserLight, 1975)
Lonnie Smith, Live at Club Mozambique (Blue Note, 1970)
Lonnie Smith, Think! (Blue Note, 1968)
Top Photo: Mikayla Gilbreath
Bottom Photo: Mark Ladenson