Remembering Louis Smith, Ann Arbor Trumpeter And Educator
By LINDA YOHN • AUG 21, 2016
Many factors have shaped jazz in Ann Arbor, but trumpeter and educator Louis Smith has to be at the top of the list for modern jazz and education. Sean Dobbins, Rick Roe, Justin Walter and Ingrid Racine will testify to his grace, wisdom, strength and total honesty as a teacher. He encouraged a professional attitude and exponential musical growth from middle school students. His students could play rings around others years older!
Jazz fans recognized the presence of mastery when Louis put his horn to his lips whether to play lightning speed bebop or a languid, loving ballad. Louis represented Ann Arbor around the globe through his recordings for Steeplechase Records and participation at International Association Of Jazz Educator Conferences. Even with these accomplishments, I remember that Louis Smith was taking trumpet lessons after retirement from the Ann Arbor Public Schools. He wanted to improve his "long tones" and strengthen his embouchure. His presence on the bandstand was warm, inclusive and intelligent. He never talked down to you. Yet, you always learned something from Louis Smith and Louis was always learning more about his craft.
Even after his stroke, Louis continued to learn and share life lessons. His determination to live with dignity, purpose and creativity continued with great support from his generous, supportive wife Lulu and the University Of Michigan Aphasia team. Louis and Lulu attended UMS, Kerrytown and Detroit Jazz Festival events after his stroke. If Louis couldn't play with his former bravado, he could listen and love the music along with others. And, without fail, the concert host would acknowledge the presence of greatness in the house: Louis Smith. Louis, who was always attired in first-class style, would then raise his big hand, wave, grin and make eye contact with music friends. Despite aphasia, Louis Smith communicated.
Louis' legacy lives on with his legion of students, his impressive Blue Note and Steeplechase Records, his contributions to jazz education on a national level and his beautiful smile that included twinkling eyes. I'll never forget him. If you ever met him or spent time with him, you'll agree with me. If you haven't heard his music, youtube has many classic Blue Note sessions available. Listen and learn why trumpeters such as Nicholas Paytonand Brian Lynch count Louis Smith as a significant influence. His influence on jazz in Ann Arbor was beyond significant. It was penultimate. Thank you Louis Smith, for a musical life very well lived.