Take Five With Jay Smith

Take Five With Jay Smith
AAJ Staff By

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Meet Jay Smith:

Jay Smith has performed with dozens of groups all over California, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain in a wide range of music, from bebop and gypsy jazz to Latin rock and funk. He has worked with groups and musicians as Kelulu, Mento Buru, The Fresno Philharmonic, David Baron Stevens, Andre Bush, Mike Dana, Velorio, Zambra, Patrick Contreras and, along with drummer Jonathan Martinez, founded The Modern Jazz Trio, which was featured in Bakotopia Magazine, the Bakersfield Californian and FACE Bakersfield, among others.

He has been on several radio stations and TV stations including Bakersfield's Channels 17, 23, 29/58 and 107.1 FM KRAB as well as several times on Fresno's 90.7 KSFR to name a few. He is a regularly featured artist and clinician at the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop.


Piano, organ, synth.

Teachers and/or influences? I started out as a classical pianist until I was introduced to jazz by Mike Dana, who studied with Joe Pass. My first jazz records were of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli's Quintette du Hot Club de France. After that, I grabbed every jazz album I could get my hands on.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I first started taking formal lessons. I went to college really young (14) and really started taking lessons then.

Your sound and approach to music: I try to incorporate what I've been told by dozens of other musicians greater than myself: learn the theory behind the what makes the music work then play like yourself! It's not enough (especially in this day and age) to know how to play standards well; it really comes down to bringing the music to that next level and making your own impact on the music.

In that respect, what I'm doing and trying to do hasn't taken off yet. I find myself actively going against the grain of what people did before me, not as a rebel action, but more emulating those before me did.

What do Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum, Art Blakey, Reinhardt, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. have in common? They all did something that was innovative at their time that wasn't entirely accepted at first. Now, some of these peoples' full success hasn't come to fruition yet, but the impact of their playing can be felt by the musicians that are trying to recreate what they did.

I think a ton of people get way too caught up in trying to emulate these people to perfection and expect that if it doesn't sound the way that one of the Greats did it, then it's not right. What's the point of sounding like Coltrane? I'd much rather listen to Coltrane play than you any day. I want to hear you and I think that's what shines in these performers is that clearly, they have an definable element that makes them distinctive.

Your teaching approach: This is what I told a student when asked the question: "Jay, what do you think is the biggest thing I need to work on to improve my solos?"

First things first-no performance will ever be perfect. Even when you think you know what you're doing, there will be that night that you realize you have more to learn.

Realize that a good solo has to have shape to it, just like a composition (because that's what we're doing is spontaneously composing).

With other styles of music, you have as much time as you want to come up with a minute or two of music whereas with jazz (or any improvisational music), you have a minute or two to create a piece of music. It'll never be perfect but you can get pretty close.

Listen to what other people have done and are doing. There are things that work in a solo that have been tried and proven (stuff that was done in the 20s is still being done today, believe it or not).

Check out Django Reinhardt, Robert Johnson, Lowell Fulson, Howling Wolf, Joe Pass, Charlie Christian, Andre Bush (a good friend of mine and amazing guitarist), David Fuse, Pat Metheny, Carlos Santana, Al Di Meola, The Mars Volta, (I could give you dozens more but this is a good starting point I think). You don't have to listen to just guitar players but start with people on your instrument and branch from there.

Absorb what these people have done into your playing. Try to learn every lick and really understand what it is they did. The only way to establish yourself is to know who came before you, what they did and the impact they've made in the music.


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