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Walter Smith III: Jazz Explorer

R.J. DeLuke By

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"It makes me have to really think about the music that I am working on. Ways of approaching composition. Ways of approaching improvisation. Ways of approaching ensemble playing," Smith says. "All the topics you need to cover. I don't like to just do it on the fly. I like to think about it and prepare. That whole process, when there's a point to me doing it, it becomes a very informative experience about how I think about things—things that I should do differently or try differently. Then getting the experience of the feedback of doing it in real time, where it's not necessarily a project I'm doing. I learn a lot about how to go about doing those things, both in the compositional process and the improvisational process.

"One of those things that's interesting is all the people I've played with, and you're traveling all the time. You spend time in airports, on trains and at sound checks. You're sitting there and very rarely do you talk about, 'How do you approach doing this?' Because you want to have a little bit of a break from the musical part of your day-to-day thing. But in the school aspect, everyone is constantly asking questions. It's interesting to have that back and forth because, clearly, I don't know everything. A lot of times students will ask questions or make suggestions and I'm like, 'Oh, that makes so much sense.' I feel when I'm there, in addition to the time I'm putting in on my saxophone, practicing or composing, my mind is working so much in a positive way to get ideas and figure things out like that."

"So, for me," adds Smith, "I feel like the more I teach, the better I play. And the more I play, the better I teach. It's a symbiotic relationship, in a way."

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