Steve Smith was originally drawn to the drums by hearing marching bands in parades as a child in his native Massachusetts. At age nine, in 1963, Smith began studying the instrument in earnest with local teacher Bill Flanagan, who played in big bands in the swing era.
Smith performed in the usual school band program and garage bands while in his teens, but also began to broaden his performing experience by playing in a professional Brockton concert band and even the big band at the local college, Bridgewater State. After high school, Smith began studying music at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1972. There he received valuable instruction from such renowned teachers as Gary Chaffee and Alan Dawson.
In 1974 Smith’s professional career began in full, at 19 years old, with his tenure in the Lin Biviano Big Band, which he toured and recorded with for the next two years. At that same time he also performed with bebopper Buddy DeFranco and was a member of free-jazz group The Fringe featuring George Garzone. In 1976, Smith began his association with jazz/fusion by joining violinist Jean Luc Ponty and recording the album Enigmatic Ocean (Atlantic 1977), which also featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth. However, it was while touring with rocker Ronnie Montrose a year later that Smith was asked to join the popular rock band Journey which brought his playing to the attention of a young rock audience.
With Journey, Smith toured around the world and recorded many successful albums including the immensely popular Escape (Columbia 1981) and Frontiers (Columbia 1983), both of which garnered the band many Top 40 hits. Smith’s inventive timekeeping, stadium sized tom-tom fills and deep sense of the groove enabled him to produce some of the most critically acclaimed rock drumming while at the same time propelling the band to much popular success.
In 1985 Smith left Journey to pursue his original passion, jazz, and to continue his developing career as a session player. Over the past 20+ years, Smith has played on many hits with such diverse artists as Mariah Carey, Bryan Adams, Zucchero, Claudio Baglioni, Andrea Bocelli, Ray Price, Corrado Rustici and Savage Garden.
Smith began leading his own fusion band, Steve Smith and Vital Information in 1983 while still a member of Journey. Vital Information currently features Tom Coster on keys, Baron Browne on bass and Vinny Valentino on guitar. Vital Information’s release, Where We Come From, was voted Best Contemporary Jazz Recording of 1998 by the Association For Independent Music.
Steve is also the bandleader of Steve Smith’s Jazz Legacy, a group carrying on the tradition of many of the great drummer-led jazz bands - communicating with music lovers of all generations, striving for excellence and playing non-compromising, burning, straight-ahead jazz. Jazz Legacy features Andy Fusco on alto sax, Walt Weiskopf on tenor and soprano saxes, Mark Soskin on piano and Baron Browne on bass.
Smith has also maintained an extensive touring and recording career, appearing with such jazz luminaries as Mike Mainieri’s group Steps Ahead. This band, which included virtuosos such as Michael Brecker, Richard Bona and Mike Stern, was one of the most successful of the ‘80s electric jazz groups and Smith contributed greatly to their tight, energetic sound for seven years (1986-1993 and again in 2005). Other high profile jazz touring and/or recording gigs that have filled the drummer’s schedule include such artists as Ahmad Jamal, Michael Manring, Stanley Clarke, Randy Brecker, Zakir Hussain, George Brooks’ Summit and the Buddy Rich Big Band, with whom he has performed in many tribute concerts to the late drumming idol. He also rejoined Journey in 1996 to record the reunion album Trial By Fire (Columbia 1996). Smith’s calendar often includes many drum clinics in which he is able to display his phenomenal techniques and concepts to drumming students around the world.
Smith’s drumming, while always decidedly modern, can best be described as a style that embodies the history of U.S. music. His original love of rudimental parade drumming is evident in his intricate solos. Likewise, his command of jazz, from New Orleans music, swing, bebop, avant-garde to fusion, is applied with his powerful rock drumming sensibilities and allows him to push the boundaries of all styles to new heights. His musical focus is committed to the exploration of improvised music incorporating styles as diverse as Blues, Jazz, R&B, Funk, Cajun and South Indian Carnatic.
In 1998, Smith began producing and playing on a series of driving electric jazz albums for the Tone Center label with a revolving cast of talented players such as Dave Liebman, Frank Gambale, Stu Hamm, Tom Coster, Larry Coryell, Jerry Goodman, Howard Levy, Steve Marcus, Scott Henderson and Victor Wooten.
Smith’s explosive solos and intricate timekeeping served to gain him much acclaim from sources such as Modern Drummer Magazine, whose readers voted him the Number One All-Around Drummer five years in a row. In 2001 Modern Drummer Magazine named Steve as one of the Top 25 Drummer of All Time, in 2002 he as voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame and finally in 2003 his Hudson Music DVD “Steve Smith Drumset Technique - History of the U.S. Beat” was voted Number One Educational DVD of 2003. Also in 2003 Steve Smith and Buddy’s Buddies - the Buddy Rich alumni quintet - released two CDs on the Tone Center label that were record live at the famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s; Very Live at Ronnie Scott’s Set One and Set Two.
In 2004 Vital Information released their tenth recording, Come On In. That year Steve also toured with Soulbop, and all-star group featuring Bill Evans, Randy Brecker, David Kikoski, Victor Bailey and Hiram Bullock. In 2005 the group released a live CD entitled Soulbop Band Live. Another all-star project was released in 2005 that Steve produced and played on for Tone Center Records, Flashpoint, featuring Steve with Dave Liebman, Aydin Esen and Anthony Jackson.
With his longstanding group Vital Information, drummer Steve Smith has always been one of the top jazz-rock fusion drummers and bandleaders in the history of the music. With Vitalization (2007), he’s hit a new high standard, mixing in ethnic elements, intricate melody lines, and interesting urban funk. Keyboardist Tom Coster’s musicality ranks up there with the best players of this genre and his baby boomer generation, while saxophonist Bill Evans proves he’s still got all the chops and imagination that made him a sensation in his younger years. With electric bass guitarist Baron Browne, electric guitarist Vinny Valentino, and percussionists Pete Lockett, Gilad, and Juan Carlos Melian, Smith has a more than capable cadre of likeminded performers to create music that has progressed past the primordial electrified fusion style of the 1970s. As heard on “You Know What I Mean,” they’ve upped the ante on the neo-bop to hard dance-funk of the Brecker Brothers. Then there’s the solidly swinging tune “The Bottom Line,” with Evans on tenor and soprano sax plus Coster’s organ; the tribute to Jimmy Smith “Jimmy Jive,” a clean and neat, easily swinging soul-jazz shuffle; and the ultimate skunk funk of “The Trouble With.”
Where Weather Report influenced just about all of these kinds of groups, Smith’s band has its own take, combining tropicalia and funk like the famous Jaco Pastorius song “Teen Town” on Valentino’s original “J Ben Jazz,” while the street strut of Coster’s “Groove Time” also sports those values. “Seven and a Half” is parsed in beats of eight and seven, respectively, with a retro feel led by Valentino, and the most involved melody crops up on “Get Serious,” with its metropolitan street rock-funk attitude, some shimmering electric piano from Coster, and the deft conga playing of Gilad and Melian Lockett is the X factor here, a wonderfully diverse player who inspires the band via Eastern and Southern influences to create a new fusion. Two versions of “Interwoven Rhythms” (“Synchronous” and “Dialogue”) have Lockett and Smith vocalizing in East Indian konnakol style, an exciting or lower-key scat enhanced by tabla.
This is album Nmber 12 for Vital Information, and it’s a very good one, as they offer expanded fare beyond the mundane musings of many of their more commercialized brethren.