Michael S. Smith
|Birth name||Michael Scott Smith|
|Also known as||Mike Smith|
|Born||January 30, 1946|
|Died||January 2, 2006|
|Genres||Jazz, Avant-garde music, Ambient music, Soul music|
Based in the Washington D.C. - Baltimore area for most of his 40-year career, Smith played with many jazz greats including Dave Liebman, Herbie Hancock, John Abercrombie, Randy Brecker, Tommy Flanagan, Billy Eckstein, Astrud Gilberto, Freddie Hubbard, Herb Ellis, and Milt Jackson.
He grew up in Meadville, Pennsylvania where his father exposed him to jazz at an early age. At age 8, Smith began taking drum lessons from local jazz drummer, Cootie Harris. His father and Harris took young Smith to local jam sessions throughout Northwestern PA.
Smith's early influences included drummers Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones. Inspired by the playing of young prodigy Tony Williams, Smith developed his own style using polyrhythms, metric modulation, and intricate cymbal work that would define his playing for the rest of his career.
As a student at Youngstown State University from 1964 to 1966, Smith played gigs in and around Youngstown and Pittsburgh, most notably with pianists Gene Rush and Harold Danko, and cellist Abdul Wadud. He recorded a demo tape with Danko and Wadud that was submitted to Down Beat magazine as a contest entry.
In 1967, Smith transferred to Howard University in Washington D.C. where he began his playing career in ernest. He was tapped to play with jazz pianist Bobby Timmons at the famed Bohemian Caverns jazz club.
He soon got the attention of other well-known jazz musicians, including vibraphonist Gary Burton. Burton asked him to join his ensemble on tour, but Smith declined due to fear of being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Smith dropped out of Howard in 1968, was immediately drafted, then classified as 4-F due to a history of migraine headaches.
He joined his friend, bassist Terry Plumeri in the group, Love, Cry, Want, a free-improvisation group with jazz, blues, and rock influences. Smith eventually recorded with Plumeri on two albums, He Who Lives In Many Places (1971) featuring Herbie Hancock and John Abercrombie, and Water Garden (1978) (formerly titled Ongoing) with Abercrombie, Ralph Towner, and the National Symphony String Quartet. In 2007, these two albums were re-issued on CD by GMMC records.
Smith helped form the ambient music group, The Entourage Music and Theater Ensemble with Joe Clark, Rusti Clark, and Wall Matthews. This group made two recordings for Folkways Records and performed in theaters in combination with dance ensembles. In 2003, the electronic music artist Four Tet sampled, without permission, the Entourage composition, "Neptune Rising", and used it as the basis for the hit single, "She Moves She." Smith (and Matthews) later received a royalty payment from Four Tet for the use of the copyrighted material.
He toured nationally with Roberta Flack from 1971 to 1972, but found the rigors of touring to be exhausting. He left Flack's band and returned to his home base in Washington D.C. where he performed and recorded with local jazz musicians. The Washington Post included Smith in its 1974 Who's Who of D.C. artists and musicians.
In 1977, Smith traveled to Germany to record with pianist Steve Kuhn, bassist Harvie Swartz, and saxophonist Steve Slagle. The resulting recording was the critically successful LP, Steve Kuhn & Ecstasy - Motility on the ECM Records label. In 1984, he recorded with pianist/bassist Don Thompson on his Juno Award-winning LP, A Beautiful Friendship. He toured Europe and appeared with pianist Adam Makowicz at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1986 and 1987 playing to large appreciative crowds.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 2003. His last recording was with David Kane, Drew Gress, and Dave Liebman on Kane's CD, Grey Matters (2005). Although suffering from walking pneumonia and severe bone pain, his performance during this session was not noticeably affected. The effects of prostate cancer eventually sidelined Smith in November 2005 and he died on January 2, 2006. A tribute to Smith was held at the renowned jazz club, Blues Alley on January 10, 2006, an event that was attended by many of the top jazz musicians in the DC area.
He had three brothers, all of whom were musicians:
- John M. Smith (1943-2012) (guitar)
- Timothy K. Smith (1958-2009) (guitar; founding member of Option 30)
- Thomas P. Smith (1963- )(drums)
Smith met 19-year-old artist Sharon Hoeffler in late 1976 while playing a standing gig at the One Step Down jazz club. They were married in 1986. They had no children and divorced in 1998. Sharon Smith, a trained nurse, re-entered Smith's life in the last few months of his life to help with his care and was at his bedside when he died.
- Terry Plumeri - He Who Lives in Many Places (1971); reissued 2007
- The Entourage Music and Theater Ensemble (1973)
- The Neptune Collection (1975)
- Steve Kuhn & Ecstasy - Motility (1977); re-issued in Kuhn's limited edition ECM boxset, Life's Backward Glances (2009)
- Terry Plumeri - Ongoing (1978); re-issued 2007 as Water Garden
- Don Thompson Quartet - A Beautiful Friendship (1984) - Juno Award Winner, Best Jazz Album (1985)
- David Kane - March Heir (1988)
- Tekke - Tekke (1989)
- John Wubbenhorst - Facing East (1997)
- Rob Levit - Silence (1999)
- David Kane - Grey Matters (2005)
- Washington Post Obitituary, 1/9/2006
- The Jazz Discography, Page S21
- On the Town: After Dark Fare Changes for Fall, The Washington Post/Times Herald; September 5, 1965, pg. G4
- Pastoral Rock and Programmed Lights, The Washington Post/Times Herald; Aug 22, 1969, pg. B1
- The Entourage MTE Official Website
- Who's Who, The Washington Post; September 8, 1974, pg. POA14
- Steve Kuhn, The Washington Post; June 26, 1978, pg. B9
- North Sea Jazz Festival Program Archives
- Mose Allison, The Washington Post; January 3, 1986, pg. B8
- Kane's Jazz Piano Roams on `March, The Washington Post, 1990, pg. N17
- Jazz Review
- T.K. Smith Tribute Page on Myspace
- Bohemian Caverns
- Blues Alley
- Steve Kuhn Official Website
- Dave Liebman Official Website
- Mose Allison Official Website
- David Kane Official Website
- Drew Gress official site