RBMA: Lonnie Liston Smith at The Planetarium

Lonnie Liston Smith. In the At-Bristol Planetarium. Literally four rows in front of me. Being interviewed by Gilles Peterson about his life in music and casually talking about working with Ray Charles and John Coltrane and so many others… What? Is this my life?

That was what kept going through my mind as I sat there bathed in inspiration and awe. The whole evening felt like a dream. You don’t even know the meaning of ‘intimate gig’ until you’re within spitting distance of Lonnie Liston. Madness.

The evening started off with a discussion between Gilles Peterson and Lonnie Liston Smith about Lonnie’s career and the journey that he’s been on which as a musician was fascinating in itself. He spoke about the constant need to be able to improvise because Ray never wanted him to play the same thing twice. Apparently he never really wanted to have a band but was forced to when people wanted him to start releasing his music – he had to have people to play it!

Most memorable for me though was how he painted a picture of New York in the 1960s. The evolution of jazz and funk into this new genre that was all about mind expansion and taking yourself into a new reality.

He spoke of walking into his regular record/book shop and seeing his friends in there where they would all recommend books to each other from philosophy to astral projection and how that influenced his sound.


Now I know Lonnie Liston from hearing him as a child but I haven’t listened to his albums from start to finish and in some ways I was so happy of that when him and his band began to play because my God.

Having Lonnie Liston Smith and his band playing my songs that I recognized from being sampled in so many songs for the very first time in a Planetarium is something I am unlikely to forget. I was sat right in the middle so that when I looked up all the projections felt like they were breaking on top of my head whilst this music transported me into the images.

The whole thing was a trip – even the band were looking at the projections and the build up of every song seemed to partner perfectly with the ever changing images. Sometimes intergalactic, sometimes text, sometimes shapes moving in and out of each other with ‘expand your mind’ being sung in the background. It was hypnotic.

When it ended and we all made our way out of the Planetarium there was not one face that did not look blissfully changed. We really had experienced Lonnie Liston Smith in a way that can’t really be described (despite me trying right now) and when I went to sleep that night all I could see was stars.

For everyone screaming in frustration at missing a pow wow of epic proportions, fear not. View below for words of wisdom and an insight into Mr Lonnit Liston Smith…. Cheers then RB.

There was, of course, a standing ovation

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