Featured Musician - June 2005

Name: Carlee Smith

Instrument: Voice

Early Years/Education: I grew up in a big house on Montgomery Street near PSU. It was THE music house at the time . . . Ronnie Steen would hang out; he was about fifteen. I remember sitting on the basement stairs and listening to music a lot played by my dad, tenor saxist Carl Smith and my mom, pianist/vocalist Patti Hart. My dad actually started playing with my mom in her jazz trio. The Patti Hart Trio used to play the Park Haviland Hotel, the Sweetbrier Inn and the Helm from 1958-68. By the time I turned fifteen I started doing background vocals, and sang a few lead tunes. In high school I sang in three choirs at Lincoln and was in Jim Little's stage band at Jefferson High School. I didn't start studying theory and classical vocal technique until eighteen when I went to Mt. Hood Community College. As a senior in high school I started out with Hal Malcolm at Mt. Hood and toured with their vocal jazz group for two years. In 1980 I did an album with my dad's group, Carl Smith and the Natural Gas Co. I left college to accompany them on a two-year West Coast tour to promote "Burnin." After that I've always wanted to do a solo CD featuring my original tunes. Along the way, vocal coach Chrissie Rocarro has been an inspiration to me.

Having my own band is something new for me. I've been a featured vocalist for a variety of other people's groups, mostly blues and R&B bands. When I go out I bring a seven piece group: four-piece rhythm section, a back-up vocalist, a horn player and me. The musicians in my band include Jay (Bird) Kodar on guitar, Carl Joiner on bass, Gerry Jaques on drums, Janice Scroggins on piano, Renato Caranto on saxophone and Jennifer Eland back-up vocal. It's only in the last few years I've started to write music. The music on my CD represents the first songs I've written. Jennifer Eland has really helped me develop the tunes; she's been incredibly helpful in teaching me how to write.

Musical Influences: Some of the people I've really followed are Ray Charles, Betty Carter, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Anita O'Day. The newer artists I like are Joss Stone (she's kind of like Janis Joplin), Coco Taylor and of course, Etta James.

Most Satisfying Experience: Finishing my CD . . . whenever you're in the studio recording there's always huge spurts of growth simply because you can hear yourself so well. You get to play back everything, you get to critique it. Your writing is clearer, you're just pumped, and it's like you're ready for a marathon--musically. Another moment for me was doing a live Zoo concert back in ‘85 with Carl Smith. It was incredibly packed, sold out. I remember doing a couple of solo tunes and the energy from the audience was so strong it could almost knock you over. All I wanted to do was return it right back to the audience. This wonderful energy was being passed between us.

Favorite Recordings: Betty Carter and Ray Charles, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Best of" Randy Crawford; Anita O'Day "Swings w/Cole Porter;" Nat King Cole, "Love Is The Thing;" Lisa Stanfield, "Biography," "Change;" Bill Withers, "Live at Carnegie Hall;" B.B. King, "Deuces Wild;" Etta James, "Life, Love and the Blues;" Janis Joplin, "Trust Me," "Pearl;" Tina Turner, "All of It;" Susan Tedeschi, "Just Won't Burn;" Joss Stone, "Mind, Body & Soul;" I also love the recordings of Sting and Bonnie Raitt.

Discography: I had a CD release last December for my first solo recording, "Yesterday I Said Goodbye." It's a broad mix of funk, blues, jazz and soul. Featured musicians include: Phil Baker, Renato Caranto, Jay "Bird" Koder, Dave Captein, Peter Boe, Janice Scroggins, Jennifer Eland, and dad Carl Smith, among others. From 1980, I'm on "Burnin," Carl Smith and the Natural Gas Co.

Where Playing Currently: I'll be with the Carl Smith group for the opening of the Rose Festival on June 3 at the Jax Yamhill Rooftop (at the top of the Yamhill Marketplace). I'll be featured vocalist with Laurie Kntych (vocal), Randy Mueller (lead trumpet), Steve Cannon (solo trumpet), Peter Piazza (trombone & violin), Jeff Fotland (alto sax), Carl Smith (tenor sax & flute), Peter Moss (bari sax), Jennifer Eland (keyboards & vocals), John Butler (guitar), Brian Casey (bass), Kurt Deutscher (drums). We'll go from 7 to 11. (Rose Festival Fireworks Spectacular starts at 10pm).

Gigs Coming Up: Check the website, www.carleesmith.com for upcoming gigs.

Future Plans: I've got two more blues tunes I just wrote, I want to do another recording in the next year and a half, in more of a jazz-blues direction, more gutsy; I'd like to do more festivals and bigger venues along the casino-line. I really just want to perform my original music.

Other: Your body is your instrument, it's important to stay in shape if you want to sing.


-- Interviewed by Rita Rega

Copyright 2007, Jazz Society of Oregon