Like Lonnie’s previous Columbia releases, Exotic Mysteries and Loveland, A Song For The Children was co-produced by Lonnie and Bert deCoteaux and features the kind of sounds listeners have come to expect from Lonnie Liston Smith – a distinctive blend of the sensuous, the funky and the highly energetic built around Lonnie’s mastery of a wide range of acoustic and electronic keyboards. Not only is A Song For The Children bound to delight Lonnie’s already large audience, it will undoubtedly expand it as well.
Over the years, Lonnie’s unique style has been widely praised by the critics. That praise has placed him in that rare class of musicians whose appeal transcends categories. Proof enough is the fact that Lonnie’s albums have consistently been hits on the jazz, soul and pop charts.
Robert Palmer of the New York Times has called the Cosmic Echoes, the group Lonnie has led since 1973, “one of the most musical and satisfying bands in their field”. Lonnie, Palmer write, “is, above all, a colorist, weaving his electric and acoustic pianos and synthesizers together in orchestral waves of sound, and a group catalyst, drawing committed performances from his soloists and rhythm section.”
Another leading critic, John S. Wilson, has called Lonnie “one of the new generation of jazz”. His appeal has been proven by the increasingly broad-based success of his 1975 albums Expansions and Visions Of The New World on the Flying Dutchman label and his 1976 albums Renaissance and Live on RCA, as well as his triumphant stream of club, college and concert appearances.
His roots are in Richmond, Va., where he first learned about music from his father, an original member of the Harmonizing Four, a gospel quartet that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Lonnie’s father also played guitar and piano, and instilled in Lonnie a love of music that expanded through the study of piano, tuba, trumpet and voice in high school and college, as well as through listening to the records of such jazz greats as Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
After graduation from Baltimore’s Morgan State College with a Bachelor of Science degree in music education, Lonnie stayed in Baltimore and worked with the house band at the Royal Theater, backing up everyone from the Supremes to Flip Wilson. “Oh, man! What an experience that was!” Lonnie recalls. “Right out of college into that. I really learned fast.” After a few seasons at the Royal, he moved to New York and gigged around, mostly with singers, before joining that perennial incubator of jazz talent, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, in 1965. Chuck Mangione was in the same band, and when Lonnie left after a year his replacement was Keith Jarrett.
After Blakey there were two years with Rahsaan Roland Kirk and then the first musical association to introduce Lonnie to a wide audience: his tenure with Pharoah Sanders, in a band that also included vocalist Leon Thomas. Lonnie says he learned valuable lessons from working with Sanders and expanded his scope further through his work with Gato Barbieri in 1971 and 1972. But it was only after a year with Miles Davis that he felt ready to step out on his own. “There’s nobody like Miles,” Lonnie says. “When you leave his band, you feel you’re really ready to lead your own group.”
That group was the Cosmic Echoes, an organization that Philip Elwood of the San Francisco Examiner has described as “beautiful…outtasight,” singling out for praise Lonnie’s tremendous rhythmic energy. With his soulful style and his musical message of universal brotherhood and love, Lonnie has been winning converts among all segments of the listening public.