Lonnie Smith, a master of the Hammond B3 organ and a leading exponent of the infectiously rhythmic genre known as soul jazz, died on Tuesday at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 79.
His manager and partner, Holly Case, said the cause was pulmonary fibrosis.
Mr. Smith, who began billing himself as Dr. Lonnie Smith in the mid-1970s, could draw an audience’s attention with his appearance alone: He had a long white beard and always wore a colorful turban. (The turbans apparently had no specific religious significance, and he did not have an advanced degree in anything and never explained why he had adopted the honorific “Dr.”) His playing was every bit as striking.
He began his career at a time when organists like Jimmy Smithand Jack McDuff were blending the sophistication of jazz with the earthy appeal of rhythm and blues. Mr. Smith was very much in that tradition, but his playing could also display an ethereal quality that was all his own. His music later reached new generations of fans when it was widely sampled by hip-hop artists.
Reviewing a 2015 performance at the Jazz Standard in New York, Ben Ratliff of The New York Times praised Mr. Smith’s sense of dynamics. “When he is quiet, he is very quiet,” Mr. Ratliff wrote. “During a gospelish song with the singer Alicia Olatuja, he started a solo passage at a level that almost couldn’t be heard and stayed there for quite a while, unspooling jagged, alert phrases that you had to strain to listen to: an easy trick but a powerful one.”