Louis Smith, local jazz hero, to get 80th birthday tribute as part of concert
Alan Warren | Ann Arbor News file photo
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.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.
“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.