“Chris Smith really sounds terrific, and impressive. Sure footed trombone solos. Chris and I will someday discuss how he got up the nerve and audacity to begin one solo on an effortless High “F” that is *for real*. Living on the edge, of course, is the answer. As we all know, the edge is where it’s at. Plunger work by Chris is also outstanding. Very.” -J.J. Johnson, September, 1998
A trombonist fluent in many styles, Chris Smith is also an arranger and composer, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, and educator. A second-generation jazz trombonist from New Orleans, Smith is one of those rare musicians who plays traditional and modern jazz equally well. He has an enormous collection of jazz trombone recordings, with a concentration on J.J. Johnson, Jack Teagarden and the virtually unknown Hollywood trombonist by the name of Abe Lincoln. In his improvised solos one can hear virtually the entire history of jazz trombone.
Coming up on the Southeast Michigan jazz scene in the 1990s, Smith quickly became one of the state’s top-call trombonists, and spent a lot of time on the road with the Detroit area’s great jazz artists. Chief among these must be the late, legendary trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, with whom Smith performed, recorded and toured since 1999. Chris also spent much time with James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, touring and recording from 1995 to the present. He has also been called upon to solidify the touring groups of New Orleans bandleaders Banu Gibson and Chris Clifton.
Former longtime lead trombonist of Ann Arbor’s Paul Keller Orchestra, Smith has also played lead trombone with the Christian McBride Big Band, the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, the Basie Big Band under the direction of Dennis Wilson, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, the Harry James Orchestra, and many other big bands, as well as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Other top artists Smith has performed, toured, or recorded with include Wess Anderson, Dave Bennett, Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Dapogny, Nnenna Freelon, Curtis Fuller, Banu Gibson, Wycliffe Gordon, Jimmy Heath, Franz Jackson, Maria Muldaur, The Manhattan Transfer, Dennis Rowland, Steve Turre, Gerald Wilson, and many others.
Smith is informally known as an authority on jazz trombone legend J.J. Johnson, having transcribed his music, given Johnson-themed concerts, written several Johnson articles and reviews and interviewed him over the Internet. He was a consultant and major contributor to “The Musical World of J.J. Johnson by Louis Bourgois III and Joshua Berrett (1999, Scarecrow Press). His own 120-page discography of J.J. Johnson’s work as jazz trombonist, composer, and arranger lists every known recording with “Johnsonian” involvement.
Along with pianist James Dapogny, Chris co-leads Phil Ogilvie’s Rhythm Kings, (P.O.R.K.), a 10-piece band that plays jazz, dance, and popular music of the 1920s and 30s. Chris plays Sousaphone in P.O.R.K. but also occasionally trombone or even trumpet. P.O.R.K. can be heard every Sunday at the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor from 5:00 till 8:00 p.m.
Smith’s academic degrees include a Bachelor of Music (Classical Performance) from Eastern Michigan University, and Master of Music (Improvisation) and Master of Arts (Musicology) degrees from the University of Michigan. He has taught music at Siena Heights University and the University of Michigan.