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April 13, 2008

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I was at the Lonnie show. Dr. Lonnie Smith and Hammond B3 are synonymous. After the first 5 minutes of a Dr. Lonnie Smith performance, you’ll know exactly why that’s true. The Exodus to Jazz show was no exception. To a packed room and standing ovations, Lonnie’s trio performed tunes from his latest albums “Too Damn Hot” and “Jungle Soul.” Lonnie was joined by guitarist Melvin Henderson and drummer Ulysses Owens. Two fabulous musicians that were on the top of their games that night; but anyone would have to be when playing with Dr. Lonnie Smith. As a sideman, Melvin’s strong rhythmic style fit perfectly underneath and in-between Dr. Lonnie’s solos. And when Lonnie made the call, Melvin delivered his own brand of stellar solos one after another. Ulysses was the youngster of the group. He has been an up and coming jazz drummer for the past few years and he definitely carried his weight while commanding mounds of respect on the drums that night.

This show, like any other Dr. Lonnie show, you just never knew what to expect. Wearing his customary long white beard and turban, he kept us on the edge of our seats all night long. “I’m gettin’ too old for this”, Dr. Lonnie jokes with the audience. However, as soon as he started “Freedom Jazz Dance” way up tempo and his fingers floated like a blur across the keys, playing lines that other organist only dream of being able to play, he reminded us very quickly that his age is only a number and that he is still more than capable to perform with a level of mastery that inspires musicians from every generation. While the night was filled with Lonnie’s trademarked soulful entertainment, the crowd favorite was a beautiful ballad that Lonnie said he was going to “do it a little differently” and that everyone “would know it when they heard it.” As Melvin and Ulysses waited wide-eyed, praying that they would be able to recognize the tune, Lonnie began playing one of the most beautifully lush organ ballads that you’d ever hear. Actually to this day, I think Dr. Lonnie’s the only person that actually knows what tune it was. The only thing that everyone in the room was certain of, was that we had just witnessed Dr. Lonnie Smith perform a miracle on stage.

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