SEMJA Celebrates Louis Smith February 26

Trumpeter Louis Smith passed away in August last year and the loss was felt by everyone in the Ann Arbor and Detroit jazz community. SEMJA will celebrate the legacy of Louis Smith as a trumpeter, composer, and teacher on February 26 with a concert at Kerrytown Concert House, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Performers will be some of his former students and colleagues on the local scene: guitarist Randy Napoleon, trumpeter Paul Finkbeiner, pianist Rick Roe, bassist Paul Keller and drummer Sean Dobbins. The group will play several of Smith’s compositions. In a recent conversation, Keller spoke of the challenge of playing Smith’s pieces, which are unique versions of the be-bop idiom. The quintet assembled by Keller had the honor of playing this material at Smith’s funeral last fall.

Smith made his first record in 1958 and was immediately signed to an exclusive contract with the Blue Note record label. That was the breakthrough year of his life: between February and May he recorded two albums under his own name, Here Comes Louis Smith and Smithville, both in the company of some of the finest players of the day, including Cannonball Adderley, Tommy Flanagan and Art Taylor, but also took part in a recording that appeared on three albums by the great guitarist Kenny Burrell (Swingin’, Blue Lights vols 1 & 2). He also joined the Horace Silver Quintet, one of the premier jazz groups of the time; a recording of their performance in the summer of 1958 was issued in 2008 to critical acclaim. But Smith did not like life on the road and left the group soon after that recording was made.

His other calling was always teaching — and he did a lot of it in Ann Arbor. After teaching at the high school and university levels in Atlanta, Tennessee, and Kentucky he settled in Ann Arbor in 1968 to teach at Forsythe Middle School and the University of Michigan. After retiring from teaching in 1978, Smith picked up his recording career — this time with Steeplechase Records. He recorded a total of twelve albums for the Danish label with sidemen like pianist Harold Mabern and tenorist George Coleman.

The February concert is a fundraiser for the Louis Smith Scholarship Fund for young musicians, which is being established by SEMJA in memory of Louis Smith and his musical legacy. Additional tax-deductible donations beyond the ticket price can be made to SEMJA, a non-profit organization.

The Kerrytown Concert House is located at 415 North Fourth Ave. in Ann Arbor. Reservations can be made by phone (734-769-2999) or online.