Just one more thing.
If anyone is confused by all this, and seeing as how I'm not exactly the most famous drummer in the world. Below is a recent article about me.
Drummer Matt Smith/ Percussive Futurist /-Bryan Kolb
Bucharest Romania never seemed like the kind of place for a post teen jazz drummer on the fast track but for Matt Smith it once seemed like heaven on Earth. On any given Monday or Tuesday he'd be at the Artjazz Club (one of the city of 2.5 million's primary jazz venues) where he left Blakey aficionados smiling with his Hammond B3 soul jazz tribute band The Blue Monks. Then the next day he might have been playing at Green Hours with the breakthrough chillout band Daybreak, followed by Thursdays and Fridays filled with a plethora of activities that included recording sessions, Saturday gigs with musicians like jazz pianist Darius Brubeck or an out of town jazz festival the following evening. Then finally there were the high profile gigs with Euro blues legend AG Weinberger that always culminated with his duties as house drummer for the wildly popular television show Acadeaua, a program that on any given Sunday night drew an audience viewership of over one million.
I used to love it there. You never got rich but you could play anything you wanted and put on quality shows with good people while learning how to be a better musician. Back home I still wasn't be allowed in clubs.
By the time Matt hit the Balkan scene running he was already an old hand, having visited Bucharest many times from the age of 12, including a long stretch from 2002-2004, courtesy of his Fulbright Professor Dad, trombonist/ jazz missionary Tom Smith. According to family lore Matt's musical fortunes had long been predetermined.
About 6 months before I was born (December 21, 1989) there were supposedly family discussions about what instrument I would play, and it was inferred strongly I consider the drums. Besides Dad especially loved drummers and has played with so many of the great ones. Then there was my first encounter with Louie Bellson. At the time Louie was touring with Dad's Unifour Big Band which was a fairly well known jazz ensemble in the late 80s and early 90s. I was 18 months old and my mom brought me up in her arms to meet Louie. Then I threw up all over him.
Yes I threw up on Louie Bellson.
That was the beginning of everything.
Nine years later iconic Bellson again who would play a significant role in the young Smith's musical evolution.
Dad saw Louie at Duke University and immediately Louie asked about the baby who had once thrown up on him. When Dad told him it was time to get me started, Louie just handed over the sticks he had finished using and said "These are for Matt."
When I got my first drum set set Christmas 1998 those sticks were the first ones I ever used.
When Matt's family moved to Romania in 2002, it was a whole new world.
Jazz music especially was everywhere and I was backstage at everything under the sun. I then asked Dad if I could have a real teacher who would actually get me somewhere. He saw that I was serious. So he introduced me to Vlad Popescu, an already legendary Euro jazz drummer in his late 20s.
I was at Vlad's house constantly for almost 2 years. I learned so much from Vlad, time, style, seriousness and yes the concept that solid rudimental skills would open many doors. Vlad was also the guy who introduced me to single strokes as a gateway to many things, and little did I know what an influence they would be on me later.
In the 8th grade I put a Coltrane tribute band together with some Romanian pro players and we used to do Green Hours. Age restrictions at those places were kind of a joke, and everyone knew me anyway. So if I ever wanted to see jazz, they would just give me a table, bring a bottled Pepsi with a straw in it and say "Stay here." My parents knew I was safe so everything was cool.
Then just before I moved back to the US we recorded several Coltrane things, mostly for demo purposes and at the last minute we recorded Expression. A little later I got this phone call and I was shocked to hear Rashied Ali's voice on the other end. Story was the Expression recording had pretty much been passed around to different people, and supposedly some jazz historian guy heard it with our Pat Metheny style guitar, and had asked Rashied about it , he was the drummer on the original recording. I guess the historian thought it was some famous guys who were really drunk or on drugs and not playing up to their usual levels, because most standards guys don't cover songs like that. Then I guess Rashied couldn't figure it out either, especially since I was copping him big time on that cut. So he got his representative on it because the whole thing was driving him crazy. When he found out it was this silly kid talking to him I'm not sure what he thought. But he was very nice about the whole thing.
When Matt returned to the US he found the readjustment much tougher than expected.
The music was one tenth what it had been and I had to prove myself to an entirely new crowd. So I just practiced for hours every day and played in Dad's college jazz ensembles and won several drum competitions. That was when I noticed I had picked up a lot of endurance, mainly I thought from a decision to play entirely right handed although I was a natural lefty. The move also gave me equally strong hands which is why I suppose and later I acquired some freakish speed.
It was not until Matt attended an Ohio drum festival that he discovered how fast he actually was.
They had this competition there called WFD (short for World's Fastest Drummer). A few years ago it was this huge deal in the drum world and people were all over it. There were state competitions, world championships at the NAMM conventions, and they provided some of the first viral drumming videos for Youtube. You were judged with this digital counter attached to a hard drum pad called a Drumometer. Then you played as many single strokes as possible in exactly one minute.
Well I was 15 years old and thought that if I won the main prize, which was a blue Gretsch
snare, I could have something I wanted without spending money I didn't have. So I walked up to the thing and started scoring some pretty high numbers.
High numbers was putting it mildly. In his very first attempt Matt set the first of seven eventual world records when he became the youngest person to ever play 1000 single strokes in one minute. A year later he became the youngest speed drumming world champion, and in 2008 broke Dream Theater Mike Mangini's world traditional grip record, performing 1132 single strokes in one minute.
Despite the accolades associated with being the world's fastest drummer, his participation in what some considered a mostly non musical event placed him in the center of a controversial debate. For several years he was a lightning rod in the drumming world, especially among the rabid participants of Internet drum forums and chat rooms.
The whole thing was completely ridiculous because the musicality vs. technique debate was always a false discussion because it mostly came from people who cared a little too much about a harmless contest that helped get your name out there. Mostly the griping came from people mad that their idea wasn't as popular as that one. Besides I understood the musicality issue fine because I came from this great musical background.
There's this youtube video of me setting the world record and it was the last time I ever competed. Afterward I noticed that people were obsessed with trying to categorize you and it wasn't just limited to stuff like speed. For instance I would do a Buddy Rich tribute as a guest artist for a local territory band and soon people were trying to call you a Buddy clone or anything that would stamp a label on you.
But in the end the whole thing was cool because it taught me a great lesson about the music business in general. I learned to blow all that off because in the end the only person who knows who you are is you.
Matt graduated high school and took on the one year professional program at the Atlanta Institute of Music, while doing hip hop DJ gigs for meal money. Over time he became an expert scratcher, no doubt attributable to noteworthy hands. He was also rumored as a possible fill in for the Smashing Pumpkins empty drum chair.
I had to laugh over that one. And in the end nothing came of it. One day my name was all over the Billy Corgan web site and soon there was this weird buzz. Strangely the Pumpkins took on a drummer even younger than me. I may never understand what any of that was all about.
Late 2010 included a brief fling with a high profile management company that included flirtations with several media icons including Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda. This was followed by a series of preliminary recordings that showcased his burgeoning skills as a producer alongside Nu Jazz collaborations with his longtime girlfriend Elena Morosanu.
Still I wasn't satisfied because every time it looked like we were going to walk through the golden door the whole thing would slam in my face. I learned a lot about the business that year...mainly that you had to develop very thick skin and quitting wasn't an option because the minute you did someone was there to take the one or two things you already had. Yet despite my perserverence I thought about quitting everything more than once. Then AG gave me a call.
AG Weinberger had already signed up a production team and had been given the green light for a thirteen week run from the popular TVR2 network. But he was without a drummer and was on the fence about hiring a 21 year old for such an important gig until popular consensus among his colleagues prevailed. It was a decision Weinberger never regretted as young Matt's star rapidly ascended via the popularity of Acadeaua amidst Matt's proclivity for adapting to any number of musical styles, leading to a Baby Gadd nickname that Smith poo poos as ridiculous.
I owe AG a lot for that gig, said Matt. It was a trial by fire four month practice session in front of everybody. Usually the show started with our house band playing our blues gig repertoire, then we would be joined a guest who would totally change our direction. One week it would be a blues or jazz show, then the next week it might be rockabilly, Jimi Hendrix or a Beatles tribute. The whole thing really kept you on your toes.
Yet despite renewed enthusiasm Matt could not ignore the inevitable decline of the Eastern European music scene, the result of mass immigration and a crippling financial recession.
One day I was walking towards Piata Romana and realized it was time to go home. I was 21 and and knew I had to take the next step.
The day after Acadeua's last taping Smith boarded a plane for Montenegro and picked up eight days of work with jazz luminaries from the celebrated WDR and Vienna Jazz Ensembles.
Matt Smith plays like a much older musician and that seems to be part of his magic, said Montenegrin promoter Zeljko Javovic.
You talk to him on the phone and you're negotiating his schedule and he's working out his TV show, followed by his touring, then he's switching gears and discussing serious jazz with you. He's also very easy to work with and extremely down to earth. I understand why everybody sees him as such a big deal despite being so young.
With accomplishments more closely resembling a mid career veteran, the precoccius young drummer with the fast hands no doubt has ideas about where jazz needs to go.
I think moving forward is the only option for the younger guys. Jazz in America has been in a rut for 30 years. Too many people have tried to choke off innovation and creativity in favor reliving the past again and again. Now that's not to say that you don't respect the past. That would be crazy, something like saying Stravinsky is great but Mozart is garbage because he came earlier. In fact most of my heroes, Tony Williams, Blakey, Elvin Jones, are all dead. But I think there's only so many ways you can go with this neoclassic bebop direction. Even great Ellington and Mingus stuff is being done to death.
If you want to go the neoclassic route, why not take the 70s Miles "Jack Johnson, "On the Corner" direction and bring back those analog sounds alongside some new directions? But the problem is you have way too many guys in the shrinking jazz media arguing about Electric Miles like all that just went down yesterday at 3:00.
I say let's just get over all this "what is jazz" stuff and start making new music. People outside of the life are always going to argue about the relevance. But why does that have to concern us?
Matt touched down on American soil July 12 and was immediately approached by an unlikely source.
Boo McAfee (founder of the WFD) was the first to call, and asked me to officiate and kind of host the return of WFD World Championships at the NAMM Convention in Nashville. It was very nice to relive a part of my life that pretty much got me in the door and I was honored that Boo wanted me to be such an important part of his resurgence. I was also able to work
the NAMM floor and hit the ground running. I know I'll be in the mix very soon.
Was he nervous about jump starting yet another chapter in what has already been an eventful career?
No, I've been through all this before. Things will work out. They always have.
Yes they have.