Monthly Archives: May 2024

Paul Smoker

Thoughts and reflections on the celebration of Paul Smoker’s life…

A memory from Brad Goode:

I’m saddened to hear of Paul Smoker’s passing. He was a great artist, trumpeter and educator, and a very important musical influence in my life.
During the late 1980’s, drummer Damon Short began bringing Paul to Chicago from Iowa, where they often played together at the Get Me High Jazz Club, The Green Mill and the Bop Shop. I was told that Paul was a great player, and that I would really appreciate him, but I was unprepared for meeting and hearing someone who would change my whole philosophy of improvisation.
Paul’s approach embraced all aspects of his musical background. He had started out as a Dixieland player, played in brass quintets, big bands, and for a brief period he flirted with a career in commercial music in New York, studying with Doc Severinsen. He found his perfect setting later in life, as a creative improviser.

When he performed, he reached all the way down and went for total self-expression, 100 % of the time. He played so hard and long, shaking and drenched with sweat, that it often appeared his head would explode. What emerged was a presentation that was totally personal, using every sound and texture he could find. Nothing was off-limits, and he used this open approach on material from Trad tunes and ballads to his own compositions and total improvisations.

We became good friends, and developed a kind of mutual appreciation. He came to hear me, I attended all of his Chicago gigs, and we would often sit-in together. I admired his ability to stand alone and apart, with total conviction to his unique approach. At the time we met, I was very young, and I had been struggling to figure out how I fit in to the cliquish world of Jazz styles. After hearing Paul, and hanging out with him, I began to understand that my only job as an improviser was to be myself, and to not worry about such trivial matters as style.

The photo here was taken in the 1990’s at the “Underground Fest” in Chicago; we were both to appear with our own groups on the same evening. Earlier that night, we had a very deep conversation about all of this stuff. I expressed to Paul that I was having a hard time with all of this stylistic rigidity, etc. Just before the music began, Paul said, “ When they announce my trio, you go up there in my place and play a free set, and then I’ll play a straight-ahead set with your band. That’ll really mess them up!” That’s exactly what we did, and you can see from the looks on our faces how much fun we had with it.

Do yourself a favor and check out Paul’s great recordings. As one critic said, “he seems to come from everyplace at the same time.”

Here’s the facebook link for this: