‘People call me the godfather of fusion’: the return of jazz-funk keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith

He has worked with Miles Davis, been sampled by Jay-Z, and has now made his first album in 25 years. He explains how going on TikTok helped him rediscover his cosmic keyboard sound

Over the last 60 years, keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith has made an artform out of countering some of jazz music’s loudest heavyweights with a soft, sensuous sound. His is the gently radiating electric piano or undulating organ backing bandmates including Miles Davis, as well as the the hard-blowing free-jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and energetic multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

As a bandleader since the 1970s, Smith has explored spiritual themes with dancefloor grooves and free-flowing improvisations, popularising what would come to be known as jazz-funk fusion. “People have called me the godfather of fusion, or the creator of the cosmic sound,” Smith says. “I was just trying to play a universal music – something that would speak to everyone.”

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