As the crow flies, you could measure the major career move by bassist Sean Smith as being some 25 miles. “I was born and raised in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, Connecticut, and now I live in the Riverdale section of New York.” Between those polar extremes there have been years of woodshedding, writing, playing, recording, touring and waiting for the phone to ring. Smith has no day gig; he’s one of the lucky ones who can make a living playing jazz. “It’s been a long process. Freelancing goes up and down, studio work has dried up, but word of mouth has been good,” Smith says. “I feel fortunate in being able to work. I just hope I can keep the band together, to keep recording and tour with them.”
“Them” consists of alto saxophonist Allen Mezquida, pianist Bill Charlap and drummer Russell Meissner. All but Meissner are on Smith’s 1999 debut album, Sean Smith Quartet Live! “Make sure you include the exclamation point,” Smith reminds me by phone from New York. “That’s the way Chiaroscuro titled it.” His latest release, on the Ambient label, has no exclamation point. It is simply called Poise. Poise is such an apt word in describing Sean Smith. Certain personality traits manage to travel over a phone line, and when they coincide with what you hear on his new CD, those images are underscored. He is gentle, modest and unassuming—traits that extend to his recording and his philosophy about being generous with solos by the sidemen, which includes guitarist Keith Ganz on a few Poise cuts.
“I love to blow—don’t get me wrong,” Smith says, “but there are so many wonderful contributions, individually and collectively, by the others—and they’re playing my music—I feel I’m already well represented.” Twelve of the 13 tracks on Poise are by Smith, as is much of the arranging, and his pen is as mighty as his bow. One of the dual highlights is his contemplative solo on “Short Ballad,” revealing not only the beauty of his plucked ideas, but the enviable intonation of his arco.
No wonder he has worked with such greats as Gerry Mulligan, Phil Woods, Benny Carter, Lee Konitz, Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney and boasts an ongoing collaboration with Mark Murphy, who put lyrics to Smith’s “Song for the Geese.” That tune became the title track of Murphy’s 1997 album and was nominated for a Grammy.
At 36, Smith has an unlimited future as straight as the crow flies.