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Thursday, June 13, 2013

R.I.P Johnny Smith.

Just heard that guitarist Johnny Smith died yesterday (June 12) aged 90. One of the all time greats. I guess, like many jazz people, it was his version of Moonlight in Vermont with Stan Getz that first brought him to my attention. In particular the rich harmonies and a rather wonderful run at the end of the tenor solo. For 1952 this was as much the epitome of 'cool' as anything that Chet and Gerry were doing.
Smith seemed at home with tenorists - as well as Getz he recorded with Zoot Sims, Paul Quinichette and Frank Foster.
However, one has to wonder what direction his music would have taken if he hadn't opted out of the main scene to teach and run a music store?.
Sadly another icon has gone although not without leaving us a treasured recorded legacy.
Rest In Peace.
Obituary.
Lance.
PS: Above - Johnny Smith pictured right with Barney Kessel. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Summerfield).
PPS: Letter from Johnny Smith to Maurice Summerfield dated December 28, 2008.


3 comments :

Roly said...

Sad to hear this. He was one of the greats. Some pals saw him at the Wales Guitar Fest a few years back and said he was amazing and a perfect gentleman too, and very humble. His vertically stacked, close voiced chords were a trademark of his and something new at the time. They are very difficult to finger (big hands help) and in that respect he pushed the existing boundaries of jazz guitar playing. He had immaculate technique. Also he played a key role in guitar development and design both with Gibson and Guild. A truly nice guy who became a legendary figure and a member of jazz guitar royalty.
Roly

Maurice Summerfield said...

Although I never met Johnny Smith – I did have had mail contact with him over the years and found him to be a perfect gentleman. He was always totally modest about his enormous talent and about the extent of his influence on so many other guitarists.
I first heard his distinctive lush chording and crystal clear single-note soloing on the historic 1952 recording of ‘Moonlight in Vermont’.. This recording, with Stan Getz, gained great popularity even outside the regular jazz audience – and enjoyed very large sales. I soon began collecting every available Johnny Smith recording – and I still have and enjoy them all to this day.
Many people do not know that although the guitar was his first instrument, Johnny Smith began his professional career in the late 1940's as a trumpeter with the New York Philharmonic. However once Johnny’s mastery of the guitar in his inimitable and unique style was recognised he became staff guitarist with the NBC in the 1950s.
All the great jazz guitarists I have known have always spoken of their great admiration of Johnny both as a person and as one of the most influential jazz guitarists of all times.
Maurice Summerfield

Ron Chapman said...

Lance - you are the bearer of the bad news. As you know Johnny Smith was a major influence in my style of chordal playing. I also have everything he ever recorded. I had some fascinating conversations with him at a guitar seminar in Wrexham when he recalled some of his memories of recording with Jerri Southern and Ruth Price among others. He was a true gentleman who in recent years enjoyed game fishing in the gulf of California.
He was totally surprised by the reception he received from the guitarists at the seminar. I went to the seminar simply so I could meet him and a great moment for me was to have my photograph taken with the great man which was published in the Just Jazz Guitar magazine.

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