Jazz organist Lonnie Smith will be performing at the 17th annual CUNY jazz festival at City College Center for Performing Arts on May 5. The seasoned musician known for playing the Hammond B-3 organ has been making music for more than 70 years and said he was thrilled to return to the event to do what he loved —inspiring people with his music.

“I’m excited anytime I get to play for people and really that’s what I’m here for,” said Smith. “I love to play all over the world and being able to touch people. I’m doing something I love with passion and giving that to other people.”

The organ player said while there several songs he might play at the concert, he is going to play his usual impromptu set because he prefers to play off crowd energy, he said.

“I basically play whatever is in my head at the time,” said Smith. “You have to watch and be aware, and feel the people because sometimes you get a different crowd. And when I go to these places, I never know what I’m going to play and I’ve been doing this for years.”

Fans will appreciate the gesture because they will enjoy a worthwhile show, said Smith.

“I can’t just play what I want. People drive for hours and even fly to come and see me, and I don’t want to disappoint them,” he said.

Smith and two guitarists will play a show roughly over and hour. But even with no preferred numbers to play, he is going for a mixture of sounds and emotions.

“I’m basically going to play music that makes you feel good or cry, make you dance and I’m going to make you remember things from the days of old,” said Smith. “I’m going to take you back where it supposed to be love, bring people together.”

And while he has maintained most of his style, he has tested out different sounds.

“I keep my own style but I push the envelope with things that have been in my head for years,” said Smith. At the show, Smith hopes to see all ages of jazz lovers come and see him play, and specifically younger fans because they are some of his biggest fans and their creativity inspires him as an artist, he said.

“I’ve been blessed to have young people sample my music and it’s amazing. It’s wonderful and to see after all those years, young people hear something they like and sample it out on their beat — that’s one of the greatest things to happen to me,” said Smith. “Can you imagine the young, old, and older?’ — it is beautiful to see them all together.”

Lonnie Smith at CUNY Jazz Festival [Aaron Davis Hall at the City College Center for the Arts [129 Convent Avenue between W. 133rd and W. 135th streets in Manhattan,, (212-650-6900]. May 5 at 7:30 pm. $15 (free for students).

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]

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