History has it that jazz guitarist Johnny Smith decided on the guitar at age five, originally motivated by his dad who was a five-string banjo performer, and turned out to be equally as outstanding on the violin, trumpet, and viola as well as the guitar. He likewise called Chuck Wayne, Jimmy Raney, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Pat Martino, Jim Hall, and Harry Leahey as single-line jazz guitar players he enjoyed.
Johnny Smith is one of the original virtuosos of the electric guitar. From the sweeping three octave runs of “Moonlight in Vermont, ” “Tea for two, ” and “Easy Living, ” to the super fast articulate solos that identify “Tabu, ” “Jaguar, ” “I’ll Remember April, ” “Un Poco Loco, ” “Samba, ao smith z1” “‘S Wonderful, ” “Tickle Toe, ” “Three Little Words, ” and “Time After Time, ” Johnny Smith’s complex however highly listenable single note jazz guitar improvised solos are the stuff of legend in the history of guitar lore – jazz or otherwise.
Exacting preciseness and technique adeptness have long been qualities of the Johnny Smith jazz guitar style, nevertheless these same characteristics have constantly been held in check by his feeling of taste and clearness. Whether interpreting an up beat bebop line, digging in to a straight ahead swing groove, belting out a lilting jazz waltz, or stroking a sensitive rubato ballad, he is an effective and definitive soloist with an immediately recognizable style and unflagging chops. Along with Johnny Smith’s substantial abilities as a jazz guitar soloist and a professional, he is a fine blues guitarist as shown on “Blues Backstage, ” “Fitz, ” “Bag’s Groove, ” “Blue Lights, ” and especially expressive moments in “Satin Doll” and “Sentimental Journey. ” Exactly what does it all indicate? Jazz guitar legend Barney Kessel once summed it up nicely along with the now famous observation: “No one on the planet plays the guitar better than Johnny Smith. “.
Johnny Smith is definitely one of the most distinct jazz guitar chord melody players in any genre. His lavish pianistic sonorities and elaborate block chord playing are music signatures and rather different from other guitarists of that age. Envision the jazz chord voicings of pianists Art Tatum and George Shearing incorporated along with the impressionistic harmonies of Claude Debussy, interpreted and realized on an electric guitar, and you have a hint of how Johnny changed the instrument. In this respect, he has actually always been in a distinctive class of his own.
Exemplary jazz guitar chord melody moments in Johnny Smith’s Royal Roost catalog include “Moonlight in Vermont, ” “Yesterdays, ” “When I Fall in Love, ” “I Didn’t Know what Time It was, ” “You Don’t know What Love Is, ” “Villa, ” “I Remember Clifford, ” “My Romance, ” and “The Lady Is a Tramp. ” An early reading of “Autumn Leaves” discovers him making a flamenco tinged atmosphere along with dazzling arabesques, double-timed passage performances, and classically influenced chords on acoustic guitar. And the unusual chiming harmonics in the main theme of “It Never Entered My Mind” make the track worth the cost of admission alone. Johnny Smith is just one of the most exceptional guitarists to come to prominence after Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt made their marks on the jazz guitar music scene. Equally at home with a jazz group or a studio orchestra, as a bandleader or an unaccompanied soloist, in a duet with a vocalist or a pop music tape-recording session, he is just one of a little handful of jazz artists whose work achieved fantastic public recognition at the very beginning of his professional career. Following his initial breakthrough, Johnny Smith rose in importance to become one of the globe’s most noticeable and admired jazz guitarists with a collection of creative albums on the Royal Rooster label. By the time he entered semi-retirement in 1957 and relocated to Colorado, he had obtained legendary standing as a jazz music guitarist!
Along with receiving the acclaim of the jazz world, Johnny Smith’s 1952 hit recording of “Moonlight in Vermont” along with Stan Getz went on to turn into one of the largest selling instrumental songs of recorded history. He is also the composer of one more well known instrumental “Walk, Don’t Run, ” which has become a rock and roll garage band standard and part of music Americana. Taped by Johnny Smith in its original form in 1954, the intriguing, classically tinged jazz piece was subsequently recorded by his pal Chet Atkins and was ultimately made into a mega-hit by the Ventures. Such is the transcendent musicianship of the man and the range of his impact.
For many, Johnny Smith is the personification of the “cool jazz” scene. His downplayed virtuosity, cool-toned guitar sound, and individualistic recordings like the experimental “Flower Drum Song” (which blended a cello along with a jazz 3 piece group) and the New Johnny Smith Quartet furthered this perception. Taken in the completeness of his work these unheard of settings show him to be an eclectic musician who simply defies classification within the rigid structures of jazz.