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The best kept secret in music

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Dreaming BIG in South Central Los Angeles
The Evolution of Guitarist Richard Smith
By Sam Navratil

Richard Smith is not only the guitarist, composer, producer, and professor, but a dreamer who pursues the variety of roles he plays with ferocious passion and depth. Many smooth jazz fans know him from his days performing 100 concerts a year as Richard Elliot’s high-profile guitarist, and riding the top of airplay charts with his solo albums. He is also on faculty at one of the top music schools in the world, the Thornton School at the University of Southern California, where he was the youngest guitarist to make the rank of Professor in that school’s history and started the first Doctoral program in jazz guitar in the world.
Smith stays busy not only teaching, but he just finished recording a new album, and most importantly he debuted his GuitarMasters Workshop at the Challengers Boys and Girls Club in South Central Los Angeles this past September. His goal is to spark imaginations, unlock creative spirits, encourage ‘at-risk” youth to reach for success through GuitarMasters.

SN: What prompted you to create GuitarMasters?
RS: After a brief, but inspiring conversation with Bonnie Raitt, I began to think of the big picture with regard to my role as a teacher, and the role of higher education in creating substantive opportunities for young people. I was especially excited when I began thinking in terms of teaching American popular music to young people. American Music schools are still for the most part classical institutions. My department is something of an exception in that we celebrate ALL indigenous American music - not just jazz, but pop, rock, blues, hip-hop, country etc.

GuitarMasters has taken this inclusive approach to South Central L.A., where young people find that THEIR music can be part of strong fundamentals and life skills which help prepare them for college, and careers. Another important component is the mentoring that goes on between the teachers (current students at USC) and the students in Guitar Masters. It is common knowledge that music skills contribute to better learning and motivation at all levels - so for all of the right reasons, I believe this program will be a big success. Selfishly, I would love to have students from this program eventually win full scholarships to study guitar at USC, and contribute to the stellar program there. With GuitarMasters I hope to provide every rung of the ladder for them to get there.

SN: What lessons do you wish to pass on through GuitarMasters?
RS: "Integrity, Love, Compassion, Caring, Trust" - five words I have in a frame in my studio at USC. I wanted to do something of substance with my skills as a professor and as a guitarist that embodied those principals - outreach and service certainly does.
I have had some students who came from humble backgrounds who go on to effect great changes in their lives by playing the heck out of the guitar. I was an "at-risk" kid myself (we didn’t call it that back then), and music kept me out of trouble, gave me direction and a great life. In the case of GuitarMasters, these kids live in an urban war zone, getting them into classes and activities after school is simply a survival step. For example, the same week as our first GuitarMasters Christmas concert there were over 25 homicides on the streets of South Central.
The motto I adapted for GuitarMasters is:
"Find Your Passion, Lose Your Fear, Dream Big, Talk Small, Work Hard.
In your dreams, so shall you become."


SN: How have the children responded to this program?
RS: We have several gifted students from the program who now enthusiastically ride their bikes onto campus for lessons – we all mentor them. Contributions and enrollment have expanded dramatically. Contributors include The Ella Fitzgerald Foundation, Ray Charles, The D’Addario Foundation, Yamaha and Fender Musical Instruments.

SN: In what way do you feel this program helps your own students?
RS: Andres Segovia said that "In teaching, one learns twice…". It is important for my students at USC to interact with people from a different background than their own. The exchange and growth is priceless. Teaching guitar is only a portion of the equation, life skills are as important as great playing.


SN: What do you feel is lacking in music education today & what contributions are you making to change it?
RS: By and large, music schools are about 100 years behind the times, and jazz educators can be just as conservative as their classical counterparts. Smooth jazz embraces and mixes an amazing variety of styles, sounds and influences - this flexibility not only intoxicates me, it is the way of the future. Music in the classroom must become innovative and inclusive, not conservative and purist. That’s my mission.

SN: What inspires you most about working with these children & their involvement in GuitarMasters?
RS: I don't have children of my own. At the same time, - Sam Navratil


Kids play with Guitar Masters
By MELISSA SEARS
Contributing Writer

When Doug Gerry decided to attend USC for his master's degree in guitar performance, part of what influenced his decision was the exciting prospect of being able to perform community service.

Once on campus, Gerry approached Richard Smith, professor and Chair of the Studio/Jazz Guitar Department. Smith had been inspired by a brief conversation about charity with Bonnie Raitt, and, after a conversation over a game of racquetball, the idea for Guitar Masters was born.

Guitar Masters is an after-school outreach program which pairs USC students as mentors with inner city students. USC students give free music lessons to the kids once a week for twelve weeks, leading up to a talent showcase, or recital.

The mission of Guitar Masters as detailed on its Web site is "to spark imaginations and unlock creative spirits, encouraging every learner to reach for success, and prepare the next generation of American guitarists."

According to the USC Thornton School of Music's Web site, the program "is built around four basic tenets of music education: appreciation, training, mentoring and performance."

Based on these four tenets, the students are taught basic music appreciation and begin basic guitar lessons. After the final recital, students who show particular talent or initiative are invited to participate in private lessons on the USC campus.

When Guitar Masters began, they not only had to find resources to start the program, a place to hold it, and volunteers to participate, but they also had to find children to work with.

Bruce Forman, a guitarist from the Bay area who Smith had known previously, was involved with a jazz outreach program, and suggested the Boys and Girls Club as a good organization to work with.

Gerry researched the many Boys and Girls Clubs in the Los Angeles area and came upon the Challengers, an incredibly active and widely known chapter (One of their recent sports event included guests Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal). Once the partnership with Challengers was in place, the next issue was volunteers.

Advertising throughout the jazz/studio guitar department, almost every single undergraduate and graduate student volunteered to be a mentor.

Afterwards, Gerry said only one obstacle remained.

"We had no money at all and I bought 20 guitars on my credit card. Thankfully, somebody came through with donations. Yamaha came through." Besides Yamaha, others, including The D'Addario Foundation, The Ella Fitzgerald Foundation, Ray Charles (Sir Charles Blues Lab), The Joy Foundation and various private donors, came through with the funds needed to begin the Guitar Masters program.

Mageshen Naidoo, one of the student teachers, knows the importance of teaching and participating in outreach programs, having done so throughout his higher education.

He reiterates the impact that one can have on a child.

"I think the kids can pick up the sense that there's value in pursuing something that you like and sticking with it and working hard, in music, that's what music entails, you've got to practice which means you've got to sacrifice time, effort."

Naidoo said he remembers a student he taught in South Africa, who "gave me this little folder ... it had a saying, 'To teach is to touch a life forever' ... I still have that."

Naidoo began volunteering with Guitar Masters this semester, and has been working with 15-year-old student Nathan Khrone, who has also been invited to have private lessons on campus. Naidoo describes Khrone as a hardworking, fun kid who is able to laugh at things despite his situation. Watching Khrone progress, Naidoo says that, "You get a sense of that because it's not just about the music, it's about impacting the life of the students, and the music is basically just the means to do that."

Growing up an "at-risk" child (though they didn't call it that then) himself, Richard Smith quickly became attached to his guitar.

In fact, today he says, "I think the thing that I'm relearning is, for the first time in my life, is that I wasn't aware of all of that strife, that sort of at-risk terrible thing of having no money. I didn't realize, because I was so into the guitar. My dad called it my peculiar obsession."

Realizing his connection with the children of downtown Los Angeles, Smith sees the similarities between these children and himself as child.

"It's not unusual with a lot of these students to just grab onto this thing," he said. "When you go down there, you open up a guitar case, and these kids who have nothing, I mean they have nothing, they look at this guitar and it's like, some of them ... just go this is, this is incredible, I can do this," Smith said. "Then when you add the dream, saying well, there's Matt Baldoni, he's Snoop Dogg's guitar player and he's also a graduate student at USC."

Reaching out to the local community children through music, Guitar Maste - Melissa Sears


The soul jazz artist's program at USC provides free lessons,instruments and mentors at-risk boys and girls. Growing up, Richard Smith's father was gone and his mother struggled to keep above the poverty line while raising two kids on her own. Today he would have been labeled an "at-risk" kid. Now the soul jazz recording artist is doing something to help at-risk youth in South Central Los Angeles. Smith founded the GuitarMasters Workshop, a community outreach program that provides free lessons, classes, guitars and mentoring through the Challengers Boys and Girls Club. <br><br>In addition to his career as a recording artist, Smith is a tenured professor at the Thornton School at the University of Southern California. He was the youngest guitarist to ever head the guitar department when appointed at age 29 and he has since gone on to create the first doctoral program in jazz guitar in the world. He selected South Central Los Angeles for GuitarMasters because the community neighbors the USC campus and the children there are especially in need of programs to keep kids off the streets after school as well as teach skills that build self-esteem and bolster hope. Smith's students serve as mentors by giving a child weekly lessons on guitar, bass, drums or vocals for twelve weeks, which concludes with a talent showcase. Kids that demonstrate promise and wish to continue are invited to receive free lessons on campus from Smith, other faculty members of the music school and students. Down the road, Smith hopes to be able to give some of the program's participants scholarships to attend USC. <br><br>Dually, GuitarMasters, which began last year, is committed to continuing the legacy and rich historical tradition of American roots and popular music such as blues, R&B, rock, and jazz. Smith strongly believes that roots music is an integral part of the American tapestry, that it is an essential subject, and that quality music education can be the catalyst for developing a wide range of skills that transcend all aspects of life. <br><br>The foundation of the program is built upon four basic tenets of music education: appreciation, training, mentoring and performance. The genesis for GuitarMasters came after Smith had a brief encounter with Bonnie Raitt. "I began to think in terms of the bigger picture with regard to my role as an educator and the role higher education should play in creating substantive opportunities for young people," said Smith. "It was exciting to think about teaching American popular music to young people because music schools in the U.S. are still for the most part classical institutions. My department at USC is an exception in that we celebrate all indigenous American music - not just classical or jazz, but pop, rock, blues, hip-hop, country, etc. We've taken this inclusive approach to South Central where young people find that their music can be part of the music fundamentals while they learn life skills that can help prepare them for college and careers. It is widely believed that music skills contribute to better learning and motivation at all levels." <br><br>Initially funding for GuitarMasters came via credit card: twenty guitars were purchased on credit to launch the program. Thankfully, donations came in and sponsors like Yamaha, Fender Musical Instruments, D'Addario Strings, The Ella Fitzgerald Foundation, The Ray Charles-Sir Charles Blues Lab and various private donors stepped up. "We've been at it for just over a year and we've seen that GuitarMasters has made a vast difference in the lives of many kids," explained Smith. "The week of our first Christmas recital last year, there were 25 murders in South Central. Anything we can do to get these kids off the streets, especially during those highly unsupervised hours immediately after school before parents get home from work, is a welcome diversion. I was an at-risk kid and music kept me out of trouble, gave me direction and helped divert my mind from my situation. This program creates a nurturing environment designed to spark imaginations, unlock creative spirits, and encourage every child to strive for success. The motto we have adopted for GuitarMasters is: Find your passion, lose your fear, dream big, talk small, work hard.In your dreams, so shall you become."<br><br>Last month, Smith released his eighth solo album entitled Soulidified, a collection of R&B, contemporary jazz, funk and buoyant pop tunes. It's his first album of all new material in three years and his debut for the A440 Music Group record label. Smith wrote or co-penned nine new compositions and contributing to the album was a talented supporting cast of musicians, including producer Brian Bromberg, Jeff Lorber, Brian Culbertson, Jeff Kashiwa, Freddie Ravel, and Alex Acuna. Aside from his solo career, Smith has recorded and toured with such smooth jazz luminaries as Peter White, Marc Antoine, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Warren Hill and Richard Elliot, who Smith recor - Bob Davis


Discography

Coming in 2004!

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Bio

The Mission- WORK HARD, TALK SMALL, DREAM BIG

The GuitarMasters Workshop is a mentoring program dedicated to continuing the legacy and rich historical tradition of American roots and popular music such as blues, rock, and jazz.
At the heart of this approach lies the conviction that roots music is an integral part of our vernacular American heritage, that it is an essential subject, and that quality music education can be the catalyst for developing a wide range of learning skills that transcend all subject areas.

This program creates a nurturing environment for the youth at Challengers Boys & Girls Club, located in South Central Los Angeles, as well as USC graduate students, faculty, and visiting professional musicians. The program is founded on abroad spectrum of American musical styles and will focus on four basic tenets: Appreciation, Training, Mentoring and Performance.

Through strong and ongoing collaborations with artists, educators, and community organizations, GuitarMasters goal is to spark imaginations, unlock creative spirits, encouraging every learner to reach for success.

GuitarMasters Success Stories-

Second year Student, Raheem Giddens

Dear Professor Smith,
I would just like to thank you and the Guitar Masters for teaching our son, Raheem, who is 10 years old, to play the guitar. Since he has been taking lessons, he is now able to play several songs after about 6 months.

The program has provided guitars for the children at Challengers Boys and Girls Club and Raheem always practices without being told. This program has been a blessing because it offers quality lessons for free that we would probably not be able to afford otherwise. Raheem being able to take lessons on the USC campus has been a great experience for him also. I also must make mention of the great recitals that our family has had the opportunity to attend. They were really awesome.

I cannot express the appreciation and the wonderful experience it has been for our son to take part in the guitar lessons. Thank you for working with the Challengers Boys and Girls Club, we really appreciate your commitment to the community.

Sincerely, Rosalind S. Giddens
(Mother)