lonnie liston smith
One of most recognizable keyboard players of all time, Lonnie Liston Smith has been a crucial figure in the ongoing pollination of jazz for over fifty years. Having worked and performed with some of the genre’s biggest innovators, he is responsible for some of the genres’ major stylistic shifts and taking Jazz-Funk into exciting new directions. His notable turns as sideman for heavyweights like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Gato Barbieri, Miles Davis & Rahsaan Roland Kirk, along with his output as a leader of his own group stands as some of the most creative keyboard work of all time. He is revered by generations of musicians and continues to be a presence in shaping contemporary sounds.
Lonnie began his career in the 1960s as a pianist and vocalist with the Baltimore Metropolitan Opera. His notable early appearances include performing with the likes of Gary Bartz, Gracha Moncur III, & Ethel Ennis. In 1965, Smith began his tenure with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, making his recording debut on the live album Here Comes The Whistleman. In the later part of the decade, he became a driving force behind crucial albums by Pharoah Sanders, Gato Barbieri, and Miles Davis, making crucial contributions to some of their best known and forward-thinkin works, including Karma, Fenix, & On The Corner. It was here that Smith also began to record on a Fender Rhodes piano, which he used to redefine the boundaries of Jazz by translating Spiritual & Free Jazz’s dynamic energy into a softer, more groove-derived palette. He would later match this with the propulsiveness of Funk, Latin, & South Asian rhythms, realizing a sound that was both meditative and percussive, and became a standard for his contemporaries.
Smith’s most recognizable work may be the recordings made with his group, Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes, throughout the 1970s on Flying Dutchman Records. It was here that the sound that Smith had been previously exploring reached its fullest potential. Albums such as Expansions and Visions of a New World are considered some of the most influential recordings of that era, celebrated for their dancefloor readiness and spiritual introspection, often on the same track.
Decades on, the music of the Cosmic Echoes era remains sought after by fans worldwide, and continues to inform his contemporaries. His records have become staples in the crates of influential DJs, including Dave Mancuso, Larry Levan, and Gilles Peterson. They have also been sampled by artists such as Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, & Stetsasonic, among many others. In the 1990s, Smith collaborated with pioneering Hip-Hop acts such as Guru and Digable Planets, appearing on groundbreaking albums including 1993’s Jazzmatazz and 1994’s Diggin’ ( A Refutation of Time and Space). Today, he continues to tour and inspire legions of new listeners, and remains one of Jazz’s most revered figures.