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Mike Smith

Mike Smith

Alto Saxophone
March 3, 1957 --

Mike Smith



"Mike's playing is a new and original approach to the music. I really love the way he plays."

--Nat Adderley


Mike Smith's enthusiasm for creating jazz goes away back to boyhood. When he was a ten-year-old alto sax student, his grammar school band director began loaning him Julian "Cannonball" Adderley albums. In his teens he began listening hard to Charlie Parker's recordings, too, and since he was under-age, his parents took him to jazz clubs to hear other top players; of course, growing up in Chicago, he absorbed the feeling of the blues--it's in the air here, like oxygen. His alto sax skill won him a Charlie Parker Scholarship to North Texas State University's jazz program; after college he moved back to Chicago, spent three years on the road with the Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich bands. Back home, he played in Jerry Coleman's Nineburner, a fixture in Chicago clubs, before, in 1985, he and several other Coleman sidemen formed the Mike Smith Quintet. Increasingly, as time goes by, it's a favorite band in Chicago clubs, especially the most popular of them, Andy's, even though the leader spends much of his time touring, usually with Frank Sinatra and Frank Sinatra Jr.

What's consistent in Mike Smith's music from the beginning is his absorption of Cannonball Adderley's alto saxophone music: "I digested those records," Smith says. Of course, Adderley, or Buckshot la Funke, to call him by his 1950s Blue Note pseudonym, is a very good ancestor to choose when you're choosing your own ancestors. Bandleader, record producer, talent scout, critic, Adderley created a thoroughly robust, extravagant alto sax music, an elaboration of the already elaborate Benny Carter; you could describe Adderley as "low-down rococo," for his music was highly decorative, with wild asides and flaring altered chords, and drenched in the harmonies of bop, blues, and gospel music; throughout the '60s, to his death in 1975, he was the most popular of all "soul jazz" artists. Far more than the customary stylization, Mike Smith's involvement with Adderley strikes deep: recurringly he performs with elegant cornetist Nat Adderley, the alter ego of Cannonball's groups, and Nat appears with the Mike Smith Quintet; moreover, his wife, Judy Smith, is writing a biography of the Adderley brothers; his first Delmark release, Unit 7, (Delmark 444) was a journey through some of the best material in Cannonball's repertoire.

Talking about his own improvising, Mike Smith says, "A few years back, it used to be really chordal--chord symbols and a scale-type approach. For many years I'd see a major seventh, and I'd think of all the notes and base my playing on that. But with anything, the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature to you. Now, it's evolved past that--I try to play melodies, I try to take a thing and develop it into a line. A lot of times I think of shapes, and I hear a chord and it triggers a sound that's in my head, and I'll react to it that way." Melody, solo shape, sound--these are certainly the essentials of Mike Smith's music.

--JOHN LITWEILER, from the liner notes,
On A Cool Night, Delmark.


A selected discography of Mike Smith albums.




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