Born in Buffalo, New York in 1942, Smith found early musical influence from his mother, who sparked in him a love of gospel, blues and jazz music. As a teenager, he was introduced to the Hammond organ and began immersing himself in the records of Wild Bill Davis, Bill Doggett and Jimmy Smith as well as paying rapt attention to the church organ.
Smith’s first gigs were at the Pine Grill, a Buffalo club where he came to the attention of Lou Donaldson, Jack McDuff and George Benson, eventually joining Benson’s quartet and moving to New York City. After releasing his debut album, Finger Lickin’ Good, Smith joined Lou Donaldson’s band and made his first Blue Note appearance on the saxophonist’s hit album Alligator Boogaloo. Smith was soon offered his own Blue Note deal, making his label debut with Think! in 1968. Smith went on to record another four Blue Note albums over the next two years (Turning Point, Move Your Hand, Drives and Live at Club Mozambique), all of which are regarded as soul-jazz classics.
Prior to Smith’s performance, pianist and organist Amina Claudine Myers will be presented with the 2017 Jazz Organ Fellowship Award.