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Take Five With Walter Smith III

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Walter Smith III: Walter Smith III began playing the saxophone at the age of seven in his hometown of Houston, Texas. At Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, in 1998, Smith received a Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellowship from IAJE and NFAA; the NFAA Young Talent Award; a full tuition scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music; and a United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts medal. Walter graduated from Berklee in 2003 with a degree in Music Education. While in Boston, Walter was selected by the Boston Jazz Society to receive its annual award, whose past winners have included Branford Marsalis and Donald Harrison. In July of 2002, Walter walked away from the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland with third place in the first annual International Saxophone Competition, as well as winning the Audience's Favorite Award. In 2003 Walter moved to New York and began studying at Manhattan School of Music on a full tuition scholarship to receive a master's in Jazz Performance.

While in New York, Smith kept himself busy touring and performing with such artists as Roy Haynes and Ralph Peterson, as well as Bilal and Destiny's Child. Smith recently performed in a Tsunami benefit concert with R&B vocalist Lauryn Hill in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Walter has performed all over the world participating in numerous national and international festivals as well as famed stages in the U.S. such as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Smith has shared the stage and/or appeared on recordings with many jazz notables including Roy Hargrove, Sean Jones, Terence Blanchard, Darren Barrett, Eric Reed, Makoto Ozone, Mulgrew Miller, Jason Moran, Joe Sample, Reuben Rogers, Bob Hurst, Donald Harrison, Antonio Hart, Joe Lovano, Bill Pierce, Myron Walden, Walter Beasley, Lewis Nash, Eric Harland, Ralph Peterson, Terri Lynne-Carrington, and a host of others.

Walter's debut recording as a leader was released in March of 2006 on the Fresh Sound New Talent label and features many of his original compositions. The band is comprised of some of the best young musicians on the scene today including Aaron Parks, Robert Glasper, Lionel Loueke, Lage Lund, Gretchen Parlato, Reuben Rogers, Vicente Archer, Kendrick Scott, Eric Harland, and Matt Kilmer. (For reviews, please visit In 2005 Walter began a two-year program with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles (USC) and has already completed tours of both Vietnam and India with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

In 2007 Walter is an integral part of two Grammy nominated recordings including Christian Scott's Rewind That, which was nominated for Best Contemporary Jazz Album, and Michael Buble's Caught in the Act, which was nominated in the Traditional/Pop category. All to be released before the summer of 2007, Walter is featured on upcoming new releases by trumpeters Christian Scott (Concord Records) and Sean Jones (Mack Avenue Records), drummer Kendrick Scott (World Culture Music), as well as several other recordings to be released in 2007 and 2008.

Instrument(s): tenor saxophone.

Teachers and/or influences? Conrad Johnson, David Caceras, Bob Morgan, Craig Green, Bill Pierce, George Garzone, and Dick Oatts were my main teachers from high school to college. Along the way, I think that my most influential teachers were my peers and friends whom I continue to learn from to this day.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I got my first gig. I was playing at a McDonalds in Houston with another saxophonist. I took a solo on "Blue Bossa." It was terrible. People clapped, and I figured if I could get away with that and get applause, how could I fail?

Your sound and approach to music: My sound is terrible, but it sounds like a saxophone. My approach to music comes from years of practicing to learn how to play, and then when I play, I pretend like I can't. Seems to keep things interesting.

Your dream band: My dream band would be more of a sound rather than the particular members that would make it up. I would prefer to have a band that sounds great together rather than an all-star group if it wound up sounding better.

Anecdote from the road: I once played a duo gig in college in Boston inside of a liquor store in the hood. It was one of those things where you show up not knowing what to expect and then you park your car and consider just driving home. It was myself and Jason Palmer (trumpet player), and it was during the afternoon and all the drunks were heckling us while we were trying to make the gig work. Three hours later, we were finished right before the after work drunks showed up, and we were able to make it out safely.

CDs you are listening to now: Dayna Stephens - A Timeless Now (CTA Records, 2007); Kendrick Scott - The Source (World Culture Music, 2006); Logan Richardson - Cerebral Flow (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2007); Robert Glasper - In My Element (Blue Note, 2007); Sean Jones - Kaleidoscope (Mack Avenue Records, 2007).


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