Dec 1, 2011
On December 5 at 7PM The Valley Jazz Network of Western Massachusetts invites the public to its inaugural event as they welcome the legendary jazz pianist Emery Austin Smith for a salon experience that includes music, demonstration and conversation, with a reception to follow. The event takes place at the Northampton Center for the Arts, 17 New South Street, Northampton, Mass. Emery Austin Smith’s appearance is sponsored by the Davis Financial Group. The event is free and open to the public. Smith will perform, as well as offer insights into his experiences on the jazz scene during the 40s and 50s.
Pianist Emery Austin Smith was a talented teen who got an early start working the jazz clubs of Hartford during the 1940s. With the emergence of new clubs along Albany Avenue (now Route 44) Smith was playing music constantly. During these early, impressionable years, Smith gained invaluable knowledge of music theory and harmony, and had the opportunity to play with a wide range of great musicians.
After relocating to New York in the late 1940s, Smith headed to Harlem to play in the countless jazz clubs in the area. Over the next several years, Smith worked the keys behind a host of jazz and R&B movers. Sessionman Joe Knight took Smith under his wing and began booking the young pianist for a string of jazz and R&B recording dates. When the jazz, R&B, and Rock ‘n’ Roll worlds collided in the 1950s, Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater hired Smith as house pianist.
At the Apollo, Smith played for the likes of Shirley Devine, Thelma Carpenter, Savannah Churchill, and Carmen McRae. Not only that, he also performed alongside jazz titans Coleman Hawkins, Archie Shepp, and Charles Greenlee.
When the jazz scene was reduced to a handful of venues in the 1970s, Smith found himself on the hotel-lounge circuit performing schmaltzy Bacharach melodies for businessmen on expense accounts. Not particularly pleased with his situation, Smith flung his tux into the Connecticut River and turned his attention to education. He taught courses on improvisation, arranging, and jazz history at workshops in the Hartford region. He also found time to record his own compositions for a series of independent releases which he regularly sells during his many gigs across the Northeast. Smith has played at legendary venues such Birdland, The Metropole, and, to the great benefit of the Valley’s jazz aficionados, at Carmelina’s at the Common in Hadley, MA where he has been performing for over 25 years.
A fledgling organization that was formed as the community outreach arm of the Fine Arts Center, Valley Jazz Network’s (VJN) mission is to preserve jazz as an art form by delivering opportunities for performance, education and community networking and collaboration by the following means: Promote and preserve jazz as an art form; deliver jazz education in our communities; and provide opportunities for members to network in a collaborative environment and bring their own ideas concerning jazz to fruition. The goal is to promote jazz artists, events, and education throughout the entire Pioneer Valley and not just at UMass. For now, jazz lovers can “like” the Valley Jazz Network Facebook page where they will find all sorts of jazz-related events, workshops, lectures, etc.
Membership in the Valley Jazz Network is free. For information on joining this cohort of jazz lovers whose mission promises to bring a positive influence on the presentation of “America’s Classical Music” (Dr. Billy Taylor), contact Darcy Hartmann at 413-577-2487 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.