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Posted on Sun, May 22, 2011 : 5:41 a.m.

Louis Smith, local jazz hero, to get 80th birthday tribute as part of concert

By Roger LeLievre

KISSING 2-3 AW.jpg

LuLu and Louis Smith in 2008.

Alan Warren | Ann Arbor News file photo

An 80th birthday tribute planned for jazzman Louis Smith Saturday night will include plenty of great bebop and, of course, a cake.

Smith, the much-loved Ann Arbor trumpeter and music educator, would love it if friends would stop by and say hello at the concert, put on by the Paul Keller Ensemble. The group plans to perform some of Smith’s compositions, as well as other works at their new home, the Zal Gaz Grotto Club.

A stroke in 2005 slowed Smith, but didn’t stop him, said his wife, LuLu Smith, herself recovering from some recent surgery. Rehabilitation continues, and although he has difficulty speaking, he is able to walk without a cane, and has also been able to sing.

“We’re just thrilled he’s doing as well as he can at 80 and after that severe stroke. It was completely debilitating to him, and he’s made a miraculous recovery,” said Keller.


Louis Smith 80th Birthday Tribute

  • Who: The Paul Keller Ensemble (bassist Paul Keller, pianist Duncan McMillan, drummer Sean Dobbins, trumpeter Paul Finkbeiner, saxophonist Doug Horn, trombonist Chris Smith and vocalist Sarah D'Angelo).
  • What: Birthday celebration for educator, recording artist and trumpeter Louis Smith. Tunes by Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Art Blakey and more. Sarah D'Angelo will sing gems from the Great American Songbook.
  • Where: Zal Gaz Grottolub, 2070 W. Stadium Blvd.
  • When: 8-11:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28.
  • How much: $10.
Besides bassist Keller, the ensemble consists of pianist Duncan McMillan, drummer Sean Dobbins, trumpeter Paul Finkbeiner, saxophonist Doug Horn and trombonist Chris Smith. Sarah D'Angelo, from Belleville, is the group’s new vocalist (long-time singer Susan Chastain has relocated to Florida).

“This is really just a chance for everybody to meet and greet Louis and wish him a happy birthday personally. We’ll have a cake, we’ll play a few of his tunes, but it’s not going to be a whole night of Louis Smith music. Sarah is going to do some of her stuff, Paul Finkbeiner will be playing trumpet, and I know that’s going to make Louis happy, to have a good jazz trumpeter there.”

The PKE will play a variety of original sextet charts by Keller and his bandmates in the classic jazz style. Selections will include tunes by Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. D'Angelo will sing familiar gems from the Great American Songbook

This show will be the first chance many area jazz fans will have to hear D’Angelo, Keller noted.


Louis Smith was a recording artist for the prestigious Blue Note label.

During his career, Smith, a former artist on the Blue Note label (among his albums are the acclaimed “Here Comes Louis Smith” and “Smithville”), performed with artists such as Miles Davis, Blakey and Gillespie. After he retired from performing, he settled in Ann Arbor, where he taught for many years at the University of Michigan and in the Ann Arbor public schools, influencing countless young musicians.

“We will be playing a few of his famous compositions from some of his Blue Note records from the late ‘50s that he made with Cannonball Adderly, Art Taylor and Paul Chambers,” Keller added. In addition, two of the band members — Chris Smith and Sean Dobbins — are former bandmates of Smith and plan to offer short testimonials.

“In the jazz pantheon, Louis Smith is right there as one of the greats. He was touted as being the next Clifford Brown. He’s dyed in the wool bebop,” Keller said.”

“(He) could have lived anywhere and become a major trumpet star in New York or Paris or wherever, but he chose to live in Ann Arbor. … He wanted to come off the road and teach — he decided to make a positive contribution to the lives of thousands of music students. Ann Arbor has been fortunate to have had him living in this area for 30 years. He’s a pillar of our community.”

If you can't make the show, Lulu Smith said her husband would be delighted to receive birthday cards at this address: Louis Smith, c/o Aphasia Center, PO Box 426, Saline, MI 48176.



Mon, May 23, 2011 : 5:28 a.m.

Happy 80th Mr. Smith, You taught my son Scott Nelson many moons ago. He was a tall gangly kid who played the french horn. Perhaps you might remember a kid that brought a Golden Retriever to summer band practice because he was dog sitting him and did not know what else to do with the dog. He just told me this so many years later. Have a great party!! Nancy Nelson

Jeff Gaynor

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 1:37 p.m.

Watch this: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and you'll want to be there Saturday!

Chip Reed

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 10:51 a.m.

Happy birthday, Louis! Many happy returns of the day.