Monday, April 19, 2010

ORGAN GURU

Organist Dr. Lonnie SmithI heard a funny story a few weeks ago during intermission at the Sonny Rollins concert at Orchestra Hall. To old-timers were talking about upcoming jazz concerts in Detroit. Dr. Smith, they mentioned your weekend engagement at the popular jazz club Cliff Bell's. Decades ago, the old-timers attended your performance at a nightclub here called Watts Mozambique. That night a fight erupted. Moments later gunshots rang out. The one old-timer said when things settled down the owner of the club found you hiding under your organ. The old-timers chuckled. I wondered if you knew what kind of club Watts Mozambique was before you agreed to play there. I don't like hanging out at nightclubs, especially ones located on the eastside of Detroit. Mozambique had a reputation for attracting thugs. Dr. Smith, do you recall the incident?

Saturday night, at Cliff Bell's, which has become a popular jazz club in town, you didn't have to worry about dodging bullets. The club doesn't attract riff-raffs. It's a classy establishment and the owner Paul books top local jazz musicians. At times, the club is smoky and noisy, but that has changed the past few months. Now if you talk during any performance, Paul will you booted out. Chatting during a performance, in my book, is disrespectful. As for the smoking, the smoking band kicks in next month, and I couldn't be happier. As a non-smoker, it's hard being in a jazz club. Smoking is a big distraction, and I can only tolerate it for one set. My eyes get irritated and my chest start to feel as if someone is standing on it. Okay that's enough preaching for one day.

I had a swell time Saturday night. I don't know if Paul informed you that the concert was sort of a dry run. He wanted to know if booking a national act would be successful. Paul is contemplating booking more nationally respected jazz musicians. Dr. Smith, you have a wonderful supporting cast in drummer Joe Dyson and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg. They're just a soulful as you are, especially Kreisberg. He sounds as if he locked himself up with a bunch of Charlie Christian albums, and dissected each one until he had the bop guitarist style down to a science.

I overheard a guy in the audience ask his friend if he purchased the same kind of guitar Kreisberg has would he sound like him. I wanted to tell him to save his money. A guitar doesn't come with any magic potions to make an aspiring guitarist sound like a virtuoso. To perform as impressively as Kreisberg did, takes many years of woodshedding.

On a different note, Dr. Smith, I've noticed a pattern. Musicians of your experience like picking on the drummers in their band. I watched Sonny Rollins ride his drummer, Kobie Watkins, a few weeks ago. And you singled out Dyson on a couple tunes during the second set. You had the youngster running laps around the drums like at basketball practice. Dyson kept his composure and indulged you as if he wanted to prove he could handle anything you subjected him to. Dyson has such a big sound I thought he was playing two drum kits at the same time.

Dr. Smith, I have to be upfront with you about the organ. It isn't my favorite instrument. I can't put my finger on it. That may sound silly. The organ has a melancholy quality that annoys me. But Saturday night, you had the organ testifying. Cliff Bells can be noisy, but the crowd was attentive both sets. They seemed hypnotized. Plugging your upcoming album after each song you played was a good marketing plan. I glad you weren't performing in a hostile environment where you had to duck bullets.
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