Take Five With Michael Smith
Starting in Indiana after graduating from Indiana State College, Terre Haute, Indiana and teaching two years in a small farm town, I transferred to California mostly in San Diego area because of a graduate assistance-ship at San Diego State University. Many assignments to locations in the city schools including Mission Bay, La Jolla and the SD School for Creative and Performing Arts.
The Jazz Project band was started after two former students, disappointed in their current group, requested a new group that reflected their taste in modern big band music. With the inclusion of talented lead trumpet player and former Navy teacher, Marty Conley, the Jazz Project has been rehearsing Monday nights and performing for over 12 years in some of San Diego's finest jazz venues.
Teachers and/or influences? My early passion was the music of Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. The arrangements of Sam Nestico made it possible to expose young students to good quality big band jazz.
Your sound and approach to music: The explorations of Kenton's Creative World series were inspirational and seemed to be the music of the future when I was young. It remains beyond the understanding of many non-musicians, yet is timeless and appreciated by those who directly experience jazz education. Ellington and Basie charted the professional level of jazz musicians.
Your teaching approach: I always had to take my students from where they were to new explorations in jazz, to take a chance and experiment safely, yet emotionally to new places in their music. They were encouraged to vocalize jazz solos, add the harmonies and rhythms of your heart to the band's platform of sound.
Your dream band:
The Jazz Project enjoys the talents of some of the finest amateurs and professional musicians in San Diego and is designed to allow soloists to explore and read some of the great big band literature available. Original arrangements of local writers/arrangers are also performed.
The local Elks club has allowed us to encourage families to come and listen to us work. Rather than the typical club environment limiting younger audiences and providing a negative image to our art, the club provides a positive clean, smoke-free environment.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I have many former students still playing their instruments after all these years and they seem to enjoy the explorations of jazz even in today's busy environment.
How would you describe the state of jazz today? In dire need of listening audiences that understand and appreciate the talents of the players of jazz.
Audiences are drawn to vocal and dance music, but the subtle improvised solo is not understood and often sounds to the uneducated as an exercise rather than an exploration of melodic possibilities.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? We need to building audiences that understand the music of America. Many young musicians are being developed, but the other students are easily distracted with music that is more accessible and simple to play.
The more students are exposed to the music, the more natural curiosity and the challenge of playing will attract their interest.