Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith was born 27 April 1967 in Edinburgh (Scotland) and is a jazz composer, saxophonist and educator. Richard Cook, jazz critic, said that Smith was “One of the most outstandingly gifted members of the generation that emerged in the mid 1980s.” Thomas William Ellis Smith was the son of Brenda Ann Urquhart (Scots) and William John Ellis (whom he never met). Smith was raised in Wester Hailes, the city’s western suburb. His stepfather George Smith was an avid jazz fan and drummer in Gene Krupa’s style. He encouraged Smith to learn the tenor-saxophone when he was twelve. Smith soon began gigging in Edinburgh and Scotland with his quartet, John Rae, under the guidance of clarinetist Jim O’Malley as well as pianist Jean Allison from Wester Hailes Education Centre. Smith, then sixteen years old, recorded Giant Strides with John Rae’s trio. In 1983, Jean Allison organized a fund-raising program to help him get a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Smith formed “Forward Motion” co-operative band with Terje Gewelt, Ian Froman, and Laszlo Gardony, a Hungarian pianist. Two albums were recorded by this group, Progressions and the Berklee Tapes. Chick Corea recommended that Smith join Berklee vice-president Gary Burton’s band. Smith was eighteen. Along with bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Makoto Ozon, Smith also recorded the Whiz Kids album. This group toured the world and caught the attention of Larry Kart, Chicago Tribune. Larry Kart said: “The key addition to the group is Tommy Smith who, if I recall correctly, is only the second jazz saxophonist Gary Burton had employed in his twenty-oaxophonistsaxophonist Gary Burton used in his twenty-ophonists. Smith’s sharp, angular lines indicate that he has a story to tell. Smith signed to Blue Note Records in 1989 when he was still just twenty-two. Step by Step was Smith’s debut album for Blue Note Records. It was recorded under Gary Burton’s direction and featured Smith leading a band that included Eddie Gomez (bass), Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield (guitar). Blue Note released three more albums: Peeping Tom (1990), Standards (91), and Paris (1992). Smith hosted a series on BBC TV called Jazz Types. In these specials, he performed with pianists Tommy Flanagan, Chick Corea and Bobby Watson. He also played bassist Arild Anderson, his former boss Gary Burton, and the pop/soul group Hue.

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