Johnny Smith / Swing Jazz

Johnny Smith

Johnny Henry Smith II (June 25, 1922 – June 11, 2013) was an American cool jazz and mainstream jazz guitarist.[1] He wrote "Walk, Don't Run" in 1954. In 1984, Smith was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

During the Great Depression, Smith's family moved from Birmingham, Alabama, where Smith was born,through several cities, ending up in Portland, Maine.

Smith taught himself to play guitar in pawnshops, which let him play in exchange for keeping the guitars in tune. At thirteen years of age he was teaching others to play the guitar. One of Smith's students bought a new guitar and gave him his old guitar, which became the first guitar Smith owned.

Smith joined Uncle Lem and the Mountain Boys, a local hillbilly band that travelled around Maine, performing at dances, fairs, and similar venues. Smith earned four dollars a night. He dropped out of high school to accommodate this enterprise.

Having become increasingly interested in the jazz bands that he heard on the radio, Smith gradually moved away from country music towards playing jazz. He left The Mountain Boys when he was eighteen years old to join a variety trio called the Airport Boys.

An extremely diverse musician, Johnny Smith was equally at home playing in the Birdland jazz club or sight-reading scores in the orchestral pit of the New York Philharmonic.[1] From Schoenberg to Gershwin to originals, Smith was one of the most versatile guitarists of the 1950s.

As a staff studio guitarist and arranger for NBC from 1946 to 1951, and on a freelance basis thereafter until 1958, Smith played in a variety of settings from solo to full orchestra and had his own trio, The Playboys, with Mort Lindsey and Arlo Hults.
His playing is characterized by closed-position chord voicings and rapidly ascending lines (reminiscent of Django Reinhardt, but more diatonic than chromatically-based).

Smith's most critically acclaimed recording was of the song "Moonlight in Vermont", and featured tenor saxophonist Stan Getz.
The single was the second most popular jazz record in DownBeat's readers' poll for 1952.
Initially released as a track on the 10-inch LP "Jazz at NBC" (Roost 410), "Moonlight in Vermont" was later made the title track of a 1956 12 inch LP. From 1952 and into the 1960s he recorded for the Roost label, on whose releases his reputation mainly rests. Mosaic Records issued the majority of them in an 8-CD set in 2002.

His best known musical composition is the track "Walk Don't Run", written for a 1954 recording session as a contrafact to "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise". Guitarist Chet Atkins covered the track, recording a neo-classical rendition of the song on the electric guitar for his Hi Fi in Focus album which preceded the Ventures' hit by three years. He played his arrangement fingerstyle, including the bass notes A, G, F, and E which later became the basis for the Ventures' arrangement. The musicians who became The Ventures heard the Atkins version, simplified it, sped it up, and recorded it in 1960. The Ventures' version went to No. 2 on the Billboard Top 100 for a week in September 1960.

In 1957, Smith's wife died in childbirth, along with his second child. He sent his young daughter to Colorado Springs, Colorado to be cared for temporarily by his mother, and the following year he left his busy performing career in New York City to join his daughter in Colorado. There, Smith ran a musical instruments store, taught music, and raised his daughter while continuing to record albums for the Royal Roost and Verve labels into the 1960s.
He told The Colorado Springs Independent in 2001 (as quoted in his New York Times obituary) "In the end, everything came down to the fact that I loved my daughter too much to let my career put her at risk. But there were other factors, too. I loved New York musically, but I hated living there." Paul Vitello observed that "Smith continued to record, and sometimes performed in Colorado nightclubs, but declined almost all invitations to tour. One exception was for Bing Crosby, whom he accompanied on a tour of England in 1977 that ended shortly before Mr. Crosby's death.

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