by Scott Gotschall
This fall the IU Jazz Studies Department and Jacobs School of Music welcomed saxophonist Walter Smith III to its faculty as an Associate Professor. Smith brings a background in jazz performance and education that has long been a proud tradition of the department. We were able to “sit down” with him and further explore his initial thoughts, expectations, and experiences on campus and in Bloomington.
Smith, a young gun on the scene at age 34, is widely recognized as an adept performer, accomplished composer, and inspired educator. His most recent album, Still Casual, his fourth as a leader, was released to great critical acclaim (AllAboutJazz , Ottawa Citizen) and it became a top-10 best seller on iTunes.
In the jazz tradition, Smith has developed under the wings of many of the music’s greats. He has been a member of several legendary groups (recording and/or touring), including the Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth Band, Terence Blanchard Quintet, Eric Harland’s Voyager Band, Jason Moran’s In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall, Christian McBride Situation band, Christian Scott group, and Sean Jones Quintet.
Smith has performed all over the world participating in numerous international festivals as well as famed venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. He has shared the stage and/or appeared on recordings with many jazz and pop notables, including Eric Reed, Mulgrew Miller, Joe Lovano, Herbie Hancock, Lauren Hill, Destiny’s Child, Snarky Puppy, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terri Lynne Carrington, and a host of others. To date, he has appeared on over 100 recordings that are released worldwide.
Smith is originally from Houston, Texas, where he attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. He went on to earn a music education degree from Berklee College of Music, Master’s degree from Manhattan School of Music, and Graduate Certificate in Performance from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.
What have you been doing professionally prior to joining the IU Jacobs School of Music faculty (performing/recording/teaching)?
WS: Prior to joining the Jacobs School of Music, I have been touring internationally about 10 months/year with several different groups including a group that I lead. We’ve toured extensively throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, South America and of course, North America. Still have to get down to Antarctica. I’ve been involved in a lot of recording projects (over 100 at this point) as well as a few movie scores with the last one being the remake of Annie. I released my last album as a leader two years ago (my fourth as a leader) and I’m planning to record a new project this spring.
In addition to the performance aspect of my life which has been pretty much all encompassing, I’ve managed to hold a few adjunct teaching positions, most recently at the Arts Academy in Los Angeles and Cal State University Los Angeles. I’ve also been an artist in residence at many universities around the world, most recently at UNC Chapel Hill, Univ. of Kansas, USC, Siena Jazz Seminar (Italy), Sibelius School of Music (Finland), and Edith Cowen University (Australia).
What are your first impressions of teaching at the Jacobs School of Music?
WS: The Jacobs School of Music is a very unique place. Besides the truly exceptional faculty with so many amazing accomplishments, it has the feel of a conservatory within a University. That’s not a small accomplishment because all of the students are held to a standard that is much higher than other places and I like the feeling that everyone involved, both faculty and students, are working tirelessly to achieve a standard of excellence. Everyone is overly busy, but really motivated to do their best in every aspect. It really is an inspiring environment.
How are you enjoying working with the Plummer Jazz Sextet?
WS: The Plummer Jazz Sextet represents everything that is great about working in Jazz Education. Students that are highly motivated to work and are really showing up to each rehearsal ready to improve as an ensemble and individuals. Anything that’s suggested or asked of them becomes a reality very quickly. I’ve worked with a lot of students that say they are working hard and would like to have a career in music, but these students are showing evidence of that dedication to excellence. I’m excited to see where we are at the end of the year because they’ve grown so much in just the first two months of school.
How are you enjoying Bloomington?
My Bloomington experience, thus far, has centered around being in the East Studio Building all day! I’ve been to a few great restaurants, but I’m still getting acclimated to my teaching load and finding the hours early in the morning or late at night to practice and compose, so I expect as the year goes on I’ll get to experience more that the city has to offer.
For now, I can see Mother Bear’s Pizza from my studio and it looks like people are enjoying it!
To learn more about Walter Smith III and hear some of his music, check out his web page.