Paul Smoker studied and performed both jazz and classical music while growing up in Davenport, Iowa. He attended the University of Iowa (eventually receiving a DMA in trumpet) where one of his fellow students was David Sanborn. While in high school and college he played in the clubs across the Mississippi River in Rock Island and Moline, as well as Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, getting to work with Dodo Marmarosa, Buddy DeFranco, and Al Jarreau, among others. He was also a member of the Iowa Brass Quintet, touring throughout the United States, and the U of Iowa Center for New Music.
As a trumpeter his influences include avant-garde classical sources as well as the jazz trumpet tradition, and also the saxophonists John Coltrane and Anthony Braxton