Posted on 12/31/2009at 1:58 PM
On October 16, I played a “homecoming” concert at the Kimmel Center in Philadephia. I put homecoming in quotes because since I seem to play in Philly often, I would have to make this concert extra-special if I wanted my hometown to take this concert seriously. I could hear the Philly fans now, “What do they mean 'homecoming'? He’s always here!!”

The specialness of this particular concert was based on my “20 year anniversary” theme. That in of itself was met with some interesting reactions. It’s as if some actually thought that this was some sort of pompous, self-congratualtory plan that I thought up all myself as I sat back preparing to rest, never learn any more tunes and go on a “veteran legends of jazz” tour with Clark Terry, Marian McPartland, Hank Jones, Roy Haynes and Gerald Wilson. You know, my “peers”. ☺ Hey, look, I’m trying to get warm bodies in the seats when I play with my own band, and if it takes a “20 year anniversary” marketing plan to help with that, then it’s new China for me, baby! ☺

Anyway, back to Philly….

With the release of “Kind Of Brown”, along with the “20 year” plan, the Kimmel Center offered me an opportunity to create a special concert. I must say, I think it was pretty doggone special. The evening was comprised of four parts.

The first part was comprised of an all-star, all-Philly band with Odean Pope, Joe Sudler, Jaleel Shaw, Dave Posmontier and Byron Landham. Odean, Joe and Byron were three of my greatest teachers and mentors growing up in Philly. I first met Jaleel when he was about 9 years old, and to see what he’s accomplished in the jazz world has been astonishing. Dave Posmontier is someone who I’d never worked with before. He’s been one of the most popular and dependable pianists in Philly for many years. My father worked with him, but this was my first time. We played only two tunes, but we played hard. We played Coltrane’s “Locomotion” and McCoy Tyner’s “Celestial Chant”. The most amazing thing about this set was listening to Joe Sudler solo! For years, Joe has always told people, “I just play parts, I don’t solo.” Yeah, ok. All of us onstage were smiling wide when Joe cut loose. He sounded wonderful. It was really, really great playing with Byron again, too. Such an amazing musician.

I’m going to skip part two of the concert for a minute. I’ll come back to it.

With a nod to my radio show and podcast series, “The Lowdown: Conversation with Christian”, I invited my pal, Bruce Hornsby to play some duets and have a tete’ a tete’ onstage. It was just as you’d think it would be: Wonderfully musical, wonderfully silly. I’m very glad to say Bruce and I have had quite the bond all these years. Definitely one of my favorite people and musicians.

The fourth and final set was with Inside Straight. What can I say? The brothers came in and took care of business like they always do.

Backing up to the second set of the night….

I wish I had the words to describe the feeling I had being onstage playing three basses with my father, Lee Smiith, and my great uncle, Howard Cooper. Better known to me as “Dad” and “Uncle Coop”, we had a ball. I arranged two songs for us – “Nature Boy” and “Mood Indigo”. The dynamic between my dad and great uncle was fascinating - not only had we not played together, but I realized that this was my first time getting to witness my dad or my uncle’s professional work ethic. I always saw them on the gig, but never in rehearsal mode. Obviously, since there was four sets, there wasn’t an overabundance of rehearsal time with any of the groups. As we completed our 30 minute run-through, I could feel that my dad would have liked a few more minutes of rehearsal. He had sort of an uneasy smile on his face after we were done rehearsing. On the other hand, uncle Coop was fearless and gung-ho. “Once we get out there and hit, it’ll be cool”, he said. Their dynamic was very similar to Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. On the “Five Peace” tour – John, the “let’s run through it about six more times – solos and all” to Chick’s “Let’s just run the head” made for some memorable soundchecks.

Inexplicably, we never played together when I was a kid. Usually, there was never two basses around at the same time. When I was with my dad, usually when I would practice my acoustic, he would play electric. When I was with uncle Coop at his house, he would play bass and I would usually sit at the piano. The three of us finally getting together for the first time ever reiterated the reason why I wanted to become a musician in the first place. It was a feeling of clarity. A feeling of warmness.

This concert also coincided with my grandmother’s _ _nd birthday. (She’d be very upset if I gave you her age!) We had an after-party at the Clef Club until the wee hours of the morning celebrating the concert and grandmom. All of my family, friends and mentors were there. Of course, there was a jam session. I’ll tell you something else that happened that no one may ever see again: my dad and I playing together……with me playing DRUMS! The fact that we hooked up shouldn’t come as a surprise. ☺

A special shout-out goes to a man who was one of my greatest teachers and mentors in Philly, Mr. Lovett Hines. Mr. Hines was the director of Settlement Music School’s jazz program for many years. Since the early 80’s, all roads lead to Mr. Hines for young up and coming jazz musicians in Philly. He is now the driving force behind the Clef Club of the Performing Arts. No matter what has gone on in my professional career, he’s NEVER treated me any different than he did when I first met him in 1984. Thanks, “Uncle Love” and keep doin’ your thing!

I must say (along with playing with James Brown), this understandably may be a gig that will be impossible to top……ever.

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