Walt Smith kicks off Glenwood Springs Summer of Jazz
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – “When you’re playing jazz, you can never play the same thing twice,” said Walt Smith. Coming from a fellow whose music career spans more than five decades, that really means something.Over the years, the Battlement Mesa resident has constantly played piano at venues from Grand Junction to Denver. He’s opened up his own lounges and performed alongside famous jazz cats. Tonight, he’s kicking off the Summer of Jazz, Glenwood’s famed eight weeks of free concerts.And of course you wouldn’t know it, but this musical life was never a plan of his.
“I had no intention of becoming a musician,” he said, sounding absolutely serious.He started out as a youngster, learning the classical ropes for a decade or so. During World War II, he was a teenager playing at a private club with older fellows ineligible for the draft. For years, he was exposed to the world of jazz, and even then he responded to its freshness. He played through college, but in the mid-’50s he up and moved to Aspen and left music behind.Or so he thought.Smith was running his own bowling alley when he got a call from jazz musician Freddy Fisher. Smith didn’t know Fisher and didn’t know how Fisher could know him. Still, Fisher wanted Smith to accompany him at a gig at the Hotel Jerome. Smith agreed, “and away we went,” he said.He strained to remember all the smoky bars, private parties and charity events that followed. There were just so many. Playing with well-known jazzists like Bert Dahlander, Art Van Damme, Carl Fontana, Phil Urso and more, Smith ended up a staple around the valley. Though he started up lounges in Denver, Aspen and Grand Junction, it seems it’s his playing that he’s most known for. For the last 30 years, people have been able to count on at least one night of jazz a week, Smith-style. These days, he averages about three.”Music is a very satisfying thing,” he explained. “And it’s challenging, and it’s just so much fun.”
He called his style “straight ahead jazz.” This is classic stuff from the world of Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and George Gershwin. Tonight, he’s not trying to give the audience anything in particular, he said. To like him, they’ve got to like jazz. It’s that simple.When asked what’s kept him going this long, Smith didn’t have too many words. He actually sounded surprised by the question, as if he just took his drive for granted. Ever since he moved to this area, he’s held down several jobs, owned a bunch businesses. Still, he never let up on his playing and insisted he wouldn’t – at least not anytime soon.”Oh, I told my wife I’d retire when I’m 100,” he said, chuckling.We’ll just see about that.Contact Stina Sieg: email@example.com
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