Last month’s uproar over who’s a doctor and who isn’t, and who takes the honorific “Dr.” and who doesn’t—a news cycle cut with sexism by an overtly bad-faith instigator in a Wall Street Journal op-ed—called for a lot of things. It called for rethinking how op-eds get vetted and how naming conventions take shape; how the dynamics of gender, class, education, and public life manifest; and where on the continuum of credentials a degree can land you. It also got me thinking beyond the margins of the news and turning for a recharge to the musical healing of Dr. Lonnie Smith, one of the legendary practitioners of the Hammond B3 organ.
At 78, Dr. Lonnie is the focus of the forthcoming documentary Dr. B3: The Soul of the Music. If you’re new to his joyful music—a pillar in the Blue Note canon of swing, funk, and East Coast jazz—start with “Seven Steps to Heaven” from 1970. There’s a particular moment of textural beauty when his palette of rhythms and colors goes from walking to trotting, then sprinting. Seconds later, the band switches from loose to tight, charging hard after a three-note horn riff that clears the way for an organ high note.
But formalism isn’t what he’s about. Dr. Lonnie is up to something greater. “What I do with the Hammond B3 is truly a gift from the creator, and I am very grateful,” he told me. “He really seems to be up to something bigger than music…deeper,” wrote a New York Times reviewer, moved by a live performance. That moment is here; the liftoff is 20 seconds later. (And the crowdfunded trailer is here.)