Celebrating Louis Smith Composer and Teacher

SEMJA celebrated Louis Smith on February 26 with a concert by a quintet of Louis’ former students and colleagues. Smith passed away in August of last year and he left a definite mark on the jazz life of Southeast Michigan and the world with his recordings, compositions and teaching.

SEMJA has set up a Louis Smith Scholarship Fund for young musicians in memory of his musical legacy; the concert was the start of a fundraising campaign for the scholarship. We received a substantial amount in tax-deductible contributions at the concert and want to thank those who gave for their generosity. If you want to be part of this campaign, please donate online here, or send a check to SEMJA at 712 East Ann St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Since SEMJA is a non-profit organization, your contributions are tax-deductible.

The quintet under the leadership of bassist Paul Keller played compositions by Louis Smith or songs associated with him. “We Too” is a classic hard bop tune by Louis that the band tore through with verve galore as they did on two others: “Andy” (based on “Indiana”) and “Later” (“After You’ve Gone”). Paul Finkbeiner’s trumpet was fiery, and Randy Napoleon’s guitar was fluid as can be on the familiar changes. Rick Roe displayed his piano chops throughout the afternoon and gave a beautiful rendering of “I Can’t Get Started” in a trio format. Drummer Sean Dobbins told the audience of the major influence Smith had on his development as a musician from the time he was in middle school. Smith’s widow Lulu also contributed a few words as the quintet played Louis’ wonderful ballad simply called “Lulu”.

Appropriately, the concert also made space for the next generation of players. Tenorist Jonathan Bechet (Ann Arbor high school graduate) sat in on “Andy” with great aplomb and guitarist Joslyn Gould (now at Michigan State University with Randy Napoleon) got to show her chops.
photograph by Lars Bjorn