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The Legendary Nate Smith: What's the story?

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Drummer, composer and bandleader Nate Smith is known and celebrated in many circles. In recent years his drumming has become as influential as it has been ubiquitous. Transcription books of his playing have been written, and any drummer trying to play funk or pocket oriented music today will have to confront Nate's playing one way or another. He has a very specific and personal way of drumming, both deeply reliable and rooted, and also very fluid and flexible.

Some know him from his early work with Dave Holland and Chris Potter Underground. Some know him from his association with the Vulfpeck crew, and the Vulf adjacent project The Fearless Flyers. Some know him from his playing with southern rock singer songwriter and icon Brittany Howard. Some—many in fact—may have discovered him by way of the singer José James, and the viral videos that Jose made of Nate's nightly solos back in 2016, which he tagged with the hashtag #thelegendarynatesmith. As Nate tells it, he was in his early 40s when he had his first viral video and it changed his life and career.

Some know him from his own compositions and solo records. He recently released em>Kinfolk 2: See The Birds, (Edition Records) the second in a trilogy that seeks to tell Nate's personal story through music. He says, "I'm interested in compositions that have a narrative and a concept. I think about 'what's the story'?"

One gets the sense that although Nate is an incredible drummer, the drums are not the end of the story for him, but rather, the means to an end. He's so deeply funky and creative on the drums and also such an intensely sensitive and emotional composer—he even co-wrote and co-produced a track for Michael Jackson, back when he was still living in Richmond, Virginia, where he cut his teeth and earned his stripes.

We talked recently about the technical, emotional, strategic, mystical, unpredictable aspects to music and a life in music, how where you come from affects how you sound, the value and values of great leadership, the influence of other drummer-bandleaders (including Art Blakey, Max Roach, Brian Blade, and Tony Williams) on his conception, and what the internet taught him about his own playing.

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