RICHARD SMITH
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RICHARD SMITH

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As this often rocking, sometimes romantic, brass-splashed collection demonstrates, the reason this talented composer and exciting and versatile guitarist isn't a bigger star on the smooth jazz scene has nothing to do with a lack of great recordings. His output of eight albums is spotty timewise because he spent years touring with Richard Elliot and others, and he has focused much of his time on his music education career. The youngest guitarist ever to head the guitar department at USC, he is a tenured professor and created the world's first doctoral program in jazz guitar. Here's hoping his students won't mind him taking more time off to record engaging efforts like this one, which more than lives up to its vibey name. The title track finds his seductive electric melody riding over a thick, thumping groove (courtesy of producer Brian Bromberg's always intense bass) as a horn section builds around and caresses it. Radio jumped early on the similarly brass-intensive take on Earth, Wind & Fire's "Sing a Song," but Smith's original material is more interesting, starting with the midtempo, hip-hop-flavored "Gotta Have You" (featuring a blend of acoustic and electric) and progressing with the playful funk of "Whatz Up?," penned with and featuring Jeff Lorber. The wild salsa jam "Latisimo" may be too sassy for smooth jazz radio, but it kicks things up a beautiful notch. Smith's discs traditionally feature a tough-edged rock-blues style punctuated with softer acoustic-based tunes that are pure sensuality. He wrote much of this material while living in Europe, and you can hear the romance of Italy on gems like "Beyond the Mountains" and "Intimato."<br>— Jonathan Widran - Jonathan Widran


Guitarist Richard Smith may have a common name, but his latest CD, SouLidified (A440 Music Group), features an uncommonly good supporting cast. Producer Brian Bromberg plays bass on most tracks, and percussionist Alex Acuna, keyboardist Jeff lorber, and saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa also contribute. Smith's instrumental arrangement on the Sammy Chan/Saul Chaplin composition "Sing a Song" (an R&B hit for Earth, Wind & Fire) is aided by keyboardist/trombonist Brian Culbertson. A professor at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, the Detroit-born, Oregon raised Smith has also provided free lessons and mentoring to the young people of Los Angeles through his GuitarMasters program. - CD Review


With the opening measure of the funky title tune "Soulidified, " the tone for this CD is set, and Smith's octave-playing fits the mood perfectly. He is a fine player in the pop-jazz style, with a crisp and clean tone that falls into the George Benson mold. His single-note lines are bluesy in nature, and his styistic approach is extremely free-flowing.
The vast majority of "Soulidified"'s selections are Smith originals; the exception is the high-energy Sammy Chan and Saul Chapin dance groove "Sing a Song." The orchestrations on each track are full and exceptionally well-done, and the players include such pop-jazz luminaries as Jeff Lorber (keyboards), Brian Bromberg (bass), and Alex Acuna (percussion).
-Vince Lewis
- Soulidified Review


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

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, when I hear about - Sam Navratil


Richard Smith is a guitarist, composer, producer, arranger and professor. Born in Detroit, but Richard Smith growing up in Oregon, he was inspired for greatness after seeing Al Di Meloa play at a "Return To Forever" concert when he was 14. Dedicating his life to the guitar he started playing in clubs while still in high school. At an early adult age he moved to Los Angeles, where he entered the USC Master Of Music program. While there, his instructor Joe Diorio got him together with pianist Billy Mitchell, who turned him onto a new world of the new and changing jazz scene. Smith hung out and worked with Russ Freeman, Max Bennett, Sam Riney, Tony Guerrero, Brian Bromberg, Jeff Kashiwa, and others. Kenny G and Dan Siegel helped Smith make a “demo” which led to his first recording contract. The first CD was awarded a nomination for “Record of the Year” in Japan. Within a year he joined Richard Elliot’s band and spent a lot of time on the road with guys like Peter White, Rick Braun, Marc Antoine, Warren Hill, Kirk Whalum and others. He recorded six number one disc’s with Elliot.

Smith has gone on to become a Music Professor at The Thornton School at USC. He has started the Guitar Masters program which provides free lessons, classes, guitars and mentoring to “at-risk” kids in South Central Los Angeles through the Challengers Boys and Girls Clubs.

I first met Smith in 1988 when he came with Elliot to Kansas City for a concert. The band was suppose to warm up for Dave Mason at a hard core rock club. Mason was a no show, but the crowd just went mad over the bands performance to the point that they had to perform a second set. Since that show Smith & I have talked quite a few times and get Bar B Q every time he comes to KC. We hooked up a few days before the release of SOuLIDIFIED.

JC: It has been a long time since we have seen anything from you. Where have you been and what have you been doing?

RS: I have been doing so many interesting things. I have been to Europe three times and actually wrote my new album SOuLIDIFIED over there. I kind of got some relationships with schools over there so I go over there and do a master class and a concert and so forth and then just hang. I lived in Bolognia for awhile and a little town on the Adriatic called Pescara and Rome. I was in the Saint Garmain district of Paris for awhile. It was a sabbatical. I got a year off from school so I went over there and bumed around, wrote music and played guitar.

JC: It has been four years since you put out an album. Even though you were bumming around is there any reason why you waited so long to record an album?

RS: It has been a wacky time in the music business and I just didn’t really want to put my foot in it for a little while. I have been very busy at school. I’m on a Fullbright committee at USC. I’m on the honorary degree committee and I’m the chair of my program. It’s so fascinating over there and it just takes a lot of time. I’ve also been doing a lot of sessions and things like that. Pushing another record out wasn’t at the top of my priority list.

JC: You love to write. You wrote all the songs on the new CD except one. Of course you love to play, so would playing come ahead of writing or vice versa?

RS: That is such a great question. It is one that I have thought about because my students asked me that. I’m surrounded by some of the great composers of all time. I’m on the faculty with Vince Mendoza and Morton "Skip" Lauridsen and these phenomenon composers who really are that profile of a composer, who are absorbed by the glory of the proposition and so forth. They are a different animal completely. So I have to look at my writing as a vehicle of my own expression and for playing the guitar on top of. I look at the stuff I write as having a harmonic and rhythmic components, the grooves and the beats and the sounds that I can best express myself. I really work hard on it. When I was over in Europe I wasn’t just bumming around, I mean I was because I wasn’t employed, but I would go back to my Pencione or my hotel and write and say “OK, what can I come up with?” I tried to write something every single day and this is just a distillation of two years of work like that.

JC: Talk about your writing process. What exactly do you do?

RS: Because I know so many musicians over in Europe, the first thing I did was said to those guys “what have you been listening to?” Some of the CD’s that I got to listen to and recorded while I was over there was so interesting and out of the American kind of mainstream. Really interesting stuff. I would punk them for their CD’s for a day or two. I would be listening to it and I would be sitting there with my guitar kind of just playing along with it. Then I would grab some stuff off of it that appealed to me. Research not plagery. Then I would work with that for a little while. I had a beat box with me and so forth. There is a certain amount of sweat rather than inspiration that - Jeff Charney


Richard Smith’s SOuLIDIFIED has been a long time coming. Think about what a labor of love it must be to record a CD with a group of incredible musicians, get excited about how beautifully it is coming together then have the release date delayed several times over a year before the record company decides not to release it at all. Then you go back in the studio, tweak some things, make a few changes , probably add a song here and have second thoughts about a song there and keep looking for the right record company to release it. Richard Smith landed at A440 music, home of artists like of Brian Hughes, Nelson Rangell, Brian Bromberg, Andy Snitzer, and Everette Harp. He landed on his feet in a better place and Soulidified, a work in progress for 2 years, was worth the wait!

What do I love about this CD? Let’s make a list!

1. The lineup. Brian Bromberg produced and it features Brian Culbertson, Jeff Kashiwa, Jeff Lorber, Freddie Ravel, Tony Gurerro, and Dave Kochanski , the former Rippingtons keyboards and one of my all time favorite songwriters!

2. The songs. Richard wrote most of them and they are complex but catchy. Hooks pop up in unexpected places and the melodies are totally original and often unpredictable. The title cut starts with smooth jazz radio bells and whistles then after the obligatory 20 seconds it takes off and builds on layers of guitar, sax and horns. "Latissimo" is an uptempo can’t-sit-still song with a rock solo in the middle, "Gotta Have You", an elegant ballad, switches from acoustic to electric and back. (Don’t let the 5 second vocal at the front distract you, the song is not full of shadow vocals). "D’Bluze", a subtle bluesy sway with a gorgeous sax line reminds me of the songs on "First Kiss", his biggest hit so far. "Diggin’ It" sounds like Larry Carlton’s early 90s work on GRP. "Inspired by You" starts out softly and ends up spirited and joyous. "Intimato" wraps up the CD. It’s a beautiful ballad that is so heartfelt that you will connect with it even if you are listening on cheap little PC speakers while doing housework.

3.The solos. The more you listen the more "wow" moments you will hear. They aren’t excessive or extended and they are a part of the songs instead of improvisational sidetrips. Richard throws out the type of chops you don’t often hear in "smooth jazz" songs and it perks up your ears and makes you backtrack your CD to make sure you what you really heard is there. It is rare to hear so many different styles and sounds from one artist on one CD. There is some beautiful keyboard work too, especially the solo in the middle of "Beyond the Mountains".

4. The arrangements. Punchy horns show up just in time to kick it up a notch, songs are built on layers of instrumentation and solos that shift seamlessly from electric to acoustic guitar, from guitar to sax, from flashy and fast to simple and textured. I am not an arranger or techie so I can’t elaborate on the dynamics of this, just say that as a listener it knocks me out over and over again throughout the CD.

5. Emotion and authenticity. How do you pin this down, it is largely intuitive. A lot of recent smooth jazz releases have sounded like high gloss pieces of product. Flawlessly executed music that is designed to create a specific mood or even make you move but the emotional connection is missing or has been polished away in layers of studio tricks and lack of interaction between the musicians. This is a beautifully produced project and has a lot of headphone-friendly stuff goin’ on but it works on more levels. It works where the artist connects with the listener through the music.

6. It isn’t all tricked up and trendy. No euro, no retro, no ambient trance or acid jazz. Just excellent songs played with a lot of heart, soul, and skill. At a time when so many artists are using gimmicks to try to make their work sound fresh the lack of them becomes truly refreshing.

The bio on his website introduces him as "not only the guitarist, composer, producer, arranger and professor, but a dreamer who pursues the variety of roles he plays with ferocious passion and depth" and that’s what you get on this CD. SOuLIDIFIED. Solid, soulful and fresh. Richard Smith has been called the "best kept secret in contemporary jazz". Check out this CD and spread the word. Secrets are more fun when they are shared. - Shannon West


Discography

Richard Smith "SOuLIDIFIED" A440 Music Group 2003
Richard Smith "Flow" Heads Up International, LTD. 1999
Richard Smith "First Kiss" Heads Up International, LTD. 1997
Richard Smith "From My Window" Brain Child Records 1994
Richard Smith "Bella Firenze" Tokuma Japan Corp. Licensed by Mesa/Blue Moon Recordings, LTD. 1991
Richard Smith "Rockin' The Boat" Chase Music Group" 1989
Richard Smith "Puma Creek" Chase Music Group 1988
Richard Smith "Inglewood" featuring Kenny G 1987
Richard Elliot "The Latest"
Richard Elliot "After Dark" Bluenote Contemporary CDP 7243
Richard Elliot "Soul Embrace" Bluenote/Capitol
Richard Elliot "On the Town" Manhattan/Capitol
Richard Elliot "What's Inside" CDP 77 3565 Enigma Records
Dan Siegel "Hemispheres" Sindrome Records 1995
Dan Siegel "Going Home" Sony/CBS Records 1993
Dan Siegel "Reflections" Pausa Records PR7142
Dan Siegel "Oasis" Inner City IC 1136
Steve Reid "Bamboo Forest" Sugo Music SR9462
Tony Guererro Nova "Different Places" WLP 116-2
Shiela Majid Gamilang (Malaysia) EMI7243
Avenu (R. Smith/Wendell Uponce Duo) "Eastern Dreams" New World Productions C409
Charlie White and Joe Sample Vista Records V2230
Billy Mitchell "In Focus" Optimism Records VR 22375
Cheryl Barnes "Cheryl" Optimism Records VR 2437
John Bolivar "Bolivar" Optimism Records PT 2645
Kazuto Murata AM 30075
"The New Age of Christmas" New World CS6
Steve Narahara"Odyssey" PR8340
Lniz Artega "Collage" PR 7155
Christofer Ashby "Light Impressions" New World Productions C108

Photos

Bio

QUOTES

“A genius musician, an electrifying live performer” - Radio and Records Magazine

"One of the most electrifying sets in Smooth Jazz you'll ever see" -Michael Tozzi, Program Director, WJJZ Philadelphia, PA

“A fine player in the pop-jazz style, with a crisp and clean tone that
falls into the George Benson mold” - Just Jazz Guitar

“Smith’s performance is authoritative” - Guitar Player Magazine

“A headlining jazz star” - Chicago Sun Times

“Smith covers contemporary jazz like a rug” -Jazz Times Magazine

“Soulidified is a smokin album, I love this CD”- Jazz USA

“Delicious guitar licks with slammin grooves”- Jazz Times Magazine

“Smith gives you a sense of what Wes Montgomery might sound
like if he tried his hand at smooth jazz” - Urban Network News

Richard Smith…. guitarist, composer, producer, arranger and professor, who pursues the variety of roles he plays with ferocious passion and depth.

As a solo artist, his latest release SOuLIDIFIED (for the A440 Music Group label) has recieved the highest praise from the national press, and has secured national radio play with his remake of Earth, Wind and Fire's "Sing a Song"! Produced by Brian Bromberg and featuring Jeff Lorber, Jeff Kashiwa, Brian Culbertson, Freddie Ravel, George Duke/Rippingtons keyboardist Dave Kochanski and Snoop-Dog drummer D-Loq. SOuLIDIFED is a potent cocktail of musical chemistry which demonstrates Smooth Jazz has evolved for Smith.
His previous albums have received the highest praise, airplay and recognition for being hard-grooving, musical adventures into modern guitar. "Best Contemporary Jazz Guitar Album" (Tune Up Magazine), "Record of the Year" (Ad Lib Magazine, Tokyo), and "Best New Artist" (Radio & Records Magazine).

There are many "firsts" in the varied careers of Richard Smith. He is on faculty at one of the top music schools in the world, the Thornton School at the University of Southern California. He was the youngest guitarist to make the rank of Professor in that school’s history. He was also the youngest chairman - at the age of 29,while still performing 100 concerts a year as Richard Elliot’s high-profile guitarist, and riding the top of airplay charts for his solo albums. He started the first Doctoral program in jazz guitar in the world and is wildly passionate about bringing attention to modern American music. He facilitated honorary degrees from USC for Quincy Jones.

In 2000 Richard made the decision to scale back touring and sideman work, and concentrate on solo projects and chase some ideas which would make a difference on a grand scale. His vision included raising National awareness of American music, not only jazz, but all American music – pop, rock, country, hip hop, Latino and R&B, and teaching that at all levels, through the guitar.
He strives to blur the lines and cultural gaps between classical, jazz and pop music and work to make music programs relevant and accessible to all young people, as they were in the past. On 9/11 2002, Richard launched GuitarMasters, which has raised thousands of dollars and provided free lessons, classes, guitars and mentoring to "at-risk" young people in South Central Los Angeles through the Challengers Boys and Girls Club.

Born in Detroit Michigan, raised in Oregon - a Chick Corea Electric Band concert inspired Smith to dedicate his life to the guitar at the age of 14. Within a year he was playing the many jazz and blues clubs in Oregon. At the age of 19 he left school to pursue offers of a recording contract and a tour with keyboardist Dan Siegel. Richard's roots came from the rich Northwest soil that produced such modern music luminaries as Robert Cray, Dan Siegel, Tom Grant, Jeff Lorber, Confunction, Pleasure and Kenny G.
Making a decision that changed his life dramatically, Richard packed two guitars into a small car and headed for Los Angeles, where he entered the USC Master of Music program, the home of what has become a new generation of great guitarists… Lee Ritenour, Paul Jackson Jr., Christopher Parkening, the L.A. Guitar quartet, Vince Mendoza and others. His USC instructor, jazz legend Joe Diorio, recommended him to Pianist Billy Mitchell, who introduced Richard to the world of rhythm & blues and L.A.’s thriving and ever-changing urban jazz scene. This would make an indelible impression on Richard’s music.

An artist’s role is to absorb some of the music that surrounds him, and living in South Central Los Angeles changed Richard's music forever. The boy from Oregon grew up fast, and brought the music along with him. He hung out and worked with Russ Freemen, Max Bennett, Sam Riney, Tony Guerrero, Brian Bromberg, Jeff Kashiwa, Billy Mitchell and other stars of the L.A. jazz scene…
About this time Richard made a "demo" with the help of friends Kenny G and Dan Siegel. Doing sessions for pop artists, he met a producer from Japan who heard the demo, and signed Smith in the parking lot of the world famous Bake