|Lonnie Liston Smith|
Lonnie Liston Smith performing live at the Glastonbury Festival, 27th June 2009.
|Born||28 December 1940
Richmond, Virginia, United States
Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Lonnie Liston Smith, Jr. (born December 28, 1940 in Richmond, Virginia) is an American jazz, soul, and funk musician who played with important free jazz artists such as Pharoah Sanders and Miles Davis before forming Lonnie Liston Smith And The Cosmic Echoes, recording a number of albums widely regarded as classics in the fusion / Quiet Storm / smooth jazz and acid jazz genres.
Lonnie was born into a musical family; his father was a member of Richmond Gospel music group The Harmonising Four, and Lonnie remembers groups such as the Swan Silvertones and the Soul Stirrers (then featuring a young Sam Cooke) as regular visitors to the house when he was a child. He learned piano, tuba and trumpet in High School and College, graduating from Morgan State University, Baltimore with a Bachelor of Science degree in music education. He has since cited Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis as major influences on his youth. While still a teenager at College, Lonnie became well known locally as a backing vocalist as well as pianist, and played in the Baltimore area with a number of his contemporaries, including Gary Bartz (alto), Grachan Moncur (trombone), and Mickey Bass (bass). He also backed a number of jazz singers such as Betty Carter and Ethel Ennis when, soon after graduating, he began playing live with with the house band at the Royal Theater, Baltimore.
In 1963 he moved to New York, and played piano in Betty Carter's band for a year. Early in 1965 Lonnie began playing with Rahsaan Roland Kirk (then known as Roland Kirk), first recording with his band on "Here Comes The Whistleman" (Atlantic, 1965), an album recorded live in NYC, March 14, 1965. A further track from that gig, "Dream" appeared later the same year on Roland Kirk and Al Hibbler's live album "A Meeting Of The Times" (Atlantic, 1965).
Late in 1965 Lonnie joined Art Blakey's sextet, the Jazz Messengers, sharing the piano position with Mike Nock and Keith Jarrett. The Jazz Messengers, together with Miles Davis' group, were one of the main proving grounds for young up-and-coming jazz musicians, experimentally edgy and musically stretching, and both were an ever-revolving door of young modern jazz musicians as modes and moods rapidly changed during a fresh period of experimentation. Beginning with a live session at The Five Spot, New York City, November 9th 1965, , Lonnie's time as a Jazz Messenger was fairly short-term, only lasting until a 3-gig engagement at The Village Vanguard 26-28 April 1966 ; by May 1966 his position was filled by Chick Corea. Unfortunately no recordings exist of this period.
In May 1967 Lonnie returned to working with Roland Kirk for the album sessions for "Now Please Don't You Cry, Beautiful Edith" (Verve,1967) before continuing his career as pianist for a year with drummer Max Roach (although once again no recordings were made of this lineup).
Following this stint, Lonnie moved to Pharaoh Sanders ensemble early in 1968, a group Sanders had set up on the death of John Coltrane the previous year. Fiercely improvisational, Sanders pushed the band to the creatively boundaries of free jazz, recording two of Sanders finest recordings "Karma" (Impulse, 1969), and "Thembi" (Impulse, 1971), together with 1969 recording sessions not released until 1973 as "Izipho Zam" (Strata East, 1973). It is at this point that Lonnie began experimenting with electric keyboards - “On Thembi, that was the first time that I ever touched a Fender Rhodes electric piano. We got to the studio in California — Cecil McBee had to unpack his bass, the drummer had to set up his drums, Pharoah had to unpack all of his horns. Everybody had something to do, but the piano was just sitting there waiting. I saw this instrument sitting in the corner and I asked the engineer, ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘That’s a Fender Rhodes electric piano.’ I didn’t have anything to do, so I started messing with it, checking some of the buttons to see what I could do with different sounds. All of a sudden I started writing a song and everybody ran over and said, ‘What is that?’ “And I said, ‘I don’t know, I’m just messing around.’ Pharoah said, ‘Man, we gotta record that. Whatcha gonna call it?’ “I’d been studying astral projections and it sounded like we were floating through space so I said let’s call it ‘Astral Traveling.’ That’s how I got introduced to the electric piano.” . During this period Lonnie also backed Sanders vocalist Leon Thomas on his first album "Spirits Known and Unknown" (Flying Dutchman, 1969).
Having already guested on Gato Barbieri's 1969 album "The Third World" (Philips, 1969), Lonnie joined Barbieri's band from 1971-73. Barbieri had by then begun to temper his free jazz excursions of the 1960's with softer Afro-Cuban and South American textures in his music, which would influence Lonnie's playing into new directions in the following years. Lonnie played on a number of albums marking this transition, "Fenix" (Philips, 1971), the critically acclaimed live album "El Pampero" (Flying Dutchman, 1972), "Bolivia" (Flying Dutchman, 1973) and "Under Fire" (Flying Dutchman, 1973). One further recording, "El Gato" (Flying Dutchman, 1975), was released after Lonnie had again moved on; from 1972 Lonnie had also taking up the invitation to join Miles Davis band on electric keyboards. Over the next year, during an intense period of studio recording by Davis, various line-ups laid down a considerable number of sessions, which were later inter-cut and remixed for final release. Miles Davis insisted that Lonnie learned to play the organ for the sessions: "Miles gave me two nights to learn how to make music on the thing. Miles liked to introduce new sounds in a surprising way — that's how he produced such innovative, fresh music." . Lonnie's contributions appear on "On The Corner" (Columbia, 1973) and the track "Ife" on "Big Fun" (Columbia, 1974).
While passing through Miles Davis' ever-changing line-up, Lonnie had finally formed his own group, 'Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes' in 1973, together with his partner in Pharoah Sanders group Cecil McBee on bass, George Barron (soprano and tenor sax), Joe Beck (guitar), David Lee, Jr. (drums), James Mtume (percussion), Sonny Morgan (percussion), Badal Roy (tabla drums), and Geeta Vashi (tamboura). Blending atmospheric fusion, soul and funk, Lonnie was encouraged by Bob Thiele, the owner of Flying Dutchman Records, who had produced both Pharaoh Sanders' and Gato Barbieri's output while Lonnie had been in their bands, the latter for Thiele's newly formed label. For his debut album, "Astral Traveling" (Flying Dutchman, 1973), Lonnie re-recorded the title song he had composed and played on with the Pharoah Sanders band two years previous. An instrumental album, "Astral Travelling" also contained a re-arrangement of the Gospel standard "Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord," which Lonnie had also previously arranged for Sanders.
The following year Lonnie's brother Donald joined the Cosmic Echoes as vocalist for "Cosmic Funk" (Flying Dutchman, 1974). Although he remained close to his earlier roots with featured versions of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" and John Coltrane's "Naima" on this album, by now Lonnie was heading into the smooth jazz funk/fusion style that would dominate his output from here on, with dreamy vocals and long, spacy instrumental passages underlaid by strong funky bass-lines and a distinctive use of light percussion, with a message of peace and tranquillity in both the lyrics and song titles. 'I was trying to expand the conciousness of humanity' explained Lonnie in an interview in 2009 [5 ]. This attitude may not have endeared Lonnie to the hardcore free jazz fans who had appreciated his earlier work, but this new relaxed fusion style proved extremely popular with a cross-over audience not normally associated with jazz, and the following albums, "Expansions" (Flying Dutchman, 1974), "Visions of a New World" (Flying Dutchman, 1975) and "Reflections of a Golden Dream" (RCA, 1976) have since become semi-legendary mainstays of the jazz-funk and chill jazz genres with djs and audiences worldwide, especially in Europe and Japan. "Renaissance" (RCA, 1977) continued this crossover fame, and the following year Lonnie expanded upon his success with a new contract with Columbia Records and two further acclaimed crossover albums in "Loveland" (Columbia, 1978) and "Exotic Mysteries" (Columbia, 1978), the latter containing the single "Space Princess" which became a disco/r+b hit still popular in clubs today in both 7" and remixed 12" versions. "Space Princess" was written by and featured the thundering basslines of 16-year old Marcus Miller, who was discovered by Lonnie and also wrote the track "Night Flower" on "Exotic Mysteries". A further track from the same album, "Quiet Moments" was to become a mainstay of the smooth jazz genre over the next decade.
After the crossover success of the 1970's, and continuing interest in and discovery of his earlier work by fans of the new 'Quiet storm' late night radio/smooth jazz format, Lonnie moved to Bob Thiele's new label, Doctor Jazz, and had a minor hit in 1983 with "Never too late". He also appeared in Marvin Gaye's backing band at the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival, which has since been released on both cd and DVD (Eagle Vision, 2003). However, public interest slowly waned in his newer material as the decade wore on, and the Cosmic Echoes eventually dissipated during the mid-80's after releasing a further three albums mining the same smooth jazz field "Dreams of Tomorrow" (Doctor Jazz, 1983), "Silhouettes" (Doctor Jazz, 1984) and "Rejuvenation" (Doctor Jazz, 1985).
In October 1986 Lonnie moved closer to his musical roots with "Make Someone Happy" (Doctor Jazz, 1986), an acoustic sesssion that included new recordings of several jazz standards by the trio of Lonnie, Cecil McBee and Al Foster, produced by Bob Thiele. However, despite critical acclaim for this work, Lonnie found himself without a recording contract until the turn of the decade, when the small Startrak label released "Love Goddess" (Startrak, 1990) and "Magic Lady" (Startrak, 1991). "I had a lot of idealistic concepts about music, and about the spiritual message I was trying to get across. But most record companies only care about demographics and bottom line sales." . Both of the Startrak albums marked an about turn to the smooth jazz mode of the Cosmic Echoes period, "Love Goddess" featuring vocalist Phyllis Hyman and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.
Around this time, the emerging hip-hop movement took an interest in Lonnie's earlier work, and he found himself working with rapper Guru, who was mixing hip-hop with jazz in an innovative way. "Guru and the other rappers would tell me how their uncles used to make them listen to me and Miles and Donald Byrd and how they got the message" Smith told Australia's Daily Telegraph Mirror newspaper in 1995 . Smith appeared on Guru's groundbreaking "Jazzmatazz, Vol 1" album (Chrysalis, 1993), once again finding a new audience for his earlier work as a result. He had also toured Europe in 1991, but after this short period of activity Lonnie produced little further work in the 1990's. Despite extensive radio play, appearing on a bewildering number of compilation cds and being namechecked and sampled by an increasing number of younger musicians discovering his Cosmic Echoes output, Lonnie spent the next few years mainly involved in setting up his own label, Loveland, and it wasn't until 1998 that Sony International took advantage of his new found audience by reissuing "Exotic Mysteries" and "Loveland" as a double cd. The same year, Lonnie recorded 'Transformation' (Loveland, 1998), once again revisiting the genre he had been most successful in and reuniting with his brother Donald's vocals. For this release he re-recorded "A Chance For Peace (Give Peace a Chance)" (both as vocal and instrumental versions) and "Expansions" as well as "Space Princess".
Since then Lonnie has not recorded, although he has performed live and toured on a number of occasions, especially in Europe and Japan, were he remains popular with new generations of listeners. He has also spent much of his time teaching at various workshops. In 2002, Sony issued a 2-cd retrospective of his Columbia output "Explorations: The Columbia Years", and his compositions remain a feature of jazz fusion orientated radio and cd compilations. The Cosmic Echoes track, "Expansions" has been featured in two videogames: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Driver: Parallel Lines, while "A Chance for Peace" featured in Grand Theft Auto 4. He most recently appearing on the Jazz World Stage at the Glastonbury Festival in June 2009.
This discography excludes re-releases under different titles and compilations by other artists/companies featuring previously released work
Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes
An incomplete list
Note: some of these links confuse Lonnie Smith's work with Lonnie Liston Smith's, and should be used with caution