Interview: Walter Smith III

photo courtesy of

Walter Smith III is no stranger to “Jazz in Perspective”. As a leading jazz modern tenor saxophonist, his music adds a unique perspective. Here is the first ever “Jazz in Perspective” interview with Walter Smith III.

Walter Smith III

Who are your influences as a jazz musician and how have they shaped your perspective on jazz or musical understanding?

Growing up I listened to a lot of Coltrane, Wayne, Branford, Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Ornette Coleman, Freddie Hubbard…the list goes on and on. For every older record (CD) I would buy, I would also get something that was current as well, so for a while my two favorite records were A Love Supreme and Noveau Swing (Donald Harrison). Then it would change to Sphere’s of Influence (Brian Lynch) and Monk Live at the Five Spot feat. Johnny Griffin the next month, etc. (on a side note I have a VERY ugly/random record collection). By bouncing around a lot with styles and eras, it led to my perspective on jazz being equally accepting/influenced by every type of approach that I encountered. For example, in high school, I can still remember practicing combining lines/approaches of Walt Weiskopf’s with Bird’s and composing a gospel tune with Robert Glasper based on a Johnny Griffin lick. Didn’t always sound great (obviously) but that kind of meshing of styles really shaped how I play today.

What were your experiences at the Thelonius Monk Institute?

The Monk Institute was great for a couple of reasons. I can’t put a value on Terence Blanchard’s mentorship during the two years. I learned so much about composition from him and gained so much confidence in every aspect of my musicianship. Other than that, performing with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock on a couple of tours was also a truly inspiring experience. Words cannot express the level of music that was created every time those guys played. It is just amazing how they have so made so much music in their lives and still get excited to see each other and perform every night. We should all be so lucky to accomplish what they have and still have a genuine love and respect for playing music.

How do you approach and arrange certain pieces like “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”?

Sound of Love actually didn’t have an arrangement did it? I haven’t listened to that in years, but I am almost positive that it was just played trio (tenor/bass/drums). It was actually the first and only time I’ve ever played it and I’m embarrassed to say that I was reading it from a lead sheet. It was really last minute and I had just been listening to it on one of Joe Lovano’s records (quartets live @ the vanguard i think) and decided to try it. One take, but it worked out ok.

What do you think about when you compose?

When I compose I am constantly trying to take one idea and expand it so that everything that I put on paper is an extension of that initial idea. At the same time I am trying to create a vibe or mood that is unique to that composition. Sometimes that leads me to think about scenery or situations from my life or movies/video games to try and achieve that feeling. It’s kind of like film scoring without an actual film.

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“Jazz in Perspective” Around the Internet

So it has been quite a few weeks that I wrote anything. Over this period of time, I have been busy balancing school and jazz as a senior in high school. Working hard to finish my last semester of high school, I have found it quite challenging yet it has been going by very quickly. Since I last shared my thoughts here, “Jazz in Perspective” has spread around the web. My article on Walter Smith III was featured on, a blog dedicated to showcasing the next generation of jazz artists. Check out my post “Artist Spotlight: Walter Smith” on Nextbop.


In addition, the “Jazz in Perspective” has been listed on many jazz websites and blogs like All About Jazz, Elements of Jazz, the Jazzerati, and JazzTimes. You can also find “Jazz in Perspective” on Facebook and Twitter.

Lastly, just recently, I performed with the Valley Christian High School Jazz Ensemble and the Valley Christian Jazz Combo at the 2011 Folsom Jazz Festival. This festival gathers some of the top groups in Northern California to compete. Lately, the festival has been drawing in well-known artists and clinicians like the Sacramento Jazz Orchestra, Brian Lynch, University of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band, and Kevin Bryan (lead trumpet for Harry Connick Jr.). Check out these videos of my performances at the festival below.

Two Heads One Pillow by Gerald Clayton, Arranged by Ian Fong

D Train (aka D Tran)

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Artist Spotlight: Walter Smith III

Walter Smith III

photo courtesy of Richard Thompson III

Redefining a New Era in Jazz

The rich airy transparent sound is what identifies rising modern tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III. His music explores the many different avenues in jazz and introduces a new melodic perspective. When he plays, his creativity is made apparent through his ability to incorporate new musical ideas and  uncover a unique relationship between harmonic and rhythmic composition. The development of his ideas can only be described as a journey that never ceases to lose momentum.

Growing up, Walter Smith III started playing the saxophone when he was 7 years old and has become one of the most recognizable musicians in this generation. His influences include John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers and Ornette Coleman along with Joe Lovano and Myron Walden. Receiving various scholarships and prestigious jazz awards like the Presidential Scholar in the Arts, Walter Smith has traveled around the world playing at various festivals and jazz venues. As a band leader and group member, Walter has played with many notable artists such as Terence Blanchard, Roy Haynes, Christian McBride, Christian Scott, and Ambrose Akinmusire.

His first debut album, Casually Introducing Walter Smith III, incorporates a variety of original compositions as well as unique arrangements of traditional songs like “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”. No matter what piece Smith plays on, his deep understanding of swing and hard-bop creates remarkable energetic musical moments. In his most recent albums, Walter Smith-Live in Parisand III, Walter Smith III adapts a more sophisticated sound. It is evident that he has grown as a musician and broadened his musical perspective. The tunes that really stand out harmonically and melodically are “Moranish”, “Byus”, and “Capitol Wasteland”. In “Moranish”, the piano starts off with a cadenza in which develops into a song where Walter Smith III plays over a reoccurring rhythmic piano line. As for “Byus”, the song highlights a different rhythmic understanding with an intricate drum feel and playful melody. Lastly, “Capitol Wasteland” exposes Smith’s warm yet powerful saxophone tone that creates a musical phenomenon.

Whether it is playing the blues or tackling a complicated deep modern song, Walter Smith III has redefined jazz. His tender sound and mature understanding of composition identifies him Continue reading

Poll: Favorite Modern Tenor Saxophonist

Participate in this survey to see who is the favorite modern jazz tenor saxophonist. Choose from the following list of musicians or send me an email at if you would like to add a name. You can also check the percentage of voters that choose a certain saxophonist. Lastly, please share with your friends! Thanks!