Veteran guitarist Richard Smith will soon be back in the Contemporary jazz spotlight with the worldwide release of his second Heads Up International, Ltd. recording, Flow (HUCD 3051).
A tenured professor and head of the University of Southern California's acclaimed guitar department, Smith is recognized as one of the pioneers of the "new adult contemporary" or "smooth jazz" style that first gained popularity in the 80s. Though the Eugene, Oregon native began his career as a side man for many of other contemporary jazz stars, he has also established a name for himself with five previous solo albums, all top chart successes at radio.
Flow finds Smith exploring a more urban vibe than on his earlier recordings, incorporating hip hop grooves built on sharp percussion and bass lines. "Following in the spirit of some of my biggest jazz idols, I'm always looking for new ways to express myself by mixing up many influences at once," he explains. "I'm probably the only musician I've known who's crazy enough to cover both a Miles Davis tune and a Kenny G song on the same album!"
Co-produced by Smith and keyboardist Tim Redfield, Flow showcases the work of some top horn players, including alto saxophonists Eric Marienthal (who guests on "Take That!") and Sean Holt and trombonist Dave Ryan. Bassist Larry Antonino and percussionist Steve Reid also add distinctive touches to the recording.
Smith is so passionate about the new album that he's relinquishing his coveted sideman role with such performers as Richard Elliot, Dan Siegel, Kirk Whalum, Warren Hill, Marc Antoine, Rick Braun, and Brian Bromberg to focus exclusively on his own music and band. However, his other career as an educator continues to call. Currently on a six-month sabbatical from USC, the guitarist/professor still finds himself stopping by campus to check on the progress of his students. During his leave and while touring to promote the new album, he plans to host several master classes at high schools around the country.
"I think we're at a real crisis point for music education in this country," Smith says with urgency. "It's almost unbelievable to me that many high schools today have no music program whatsoever, and if they do, nothing of substance for a guitarist. And a lot of the existing programs at the university level aren't really preparing students for a professional career. I've known too many amazing musicians who graduate and end up clerking in a record store because they haven't been given the tools to earn a living in a field that demands a lot of diversity, experience and just plain street smarts. So I guess you could say I'm on a mission to share not only what I know about music, but what I know about making it in this business!"
Smith will be hitting the road this summer, performing dates in San Diego, Sacramento, Miami and later traveling to England, Greece, Italy, Spain and Germany for a series of concerts and guitar workshops.