Willie “Face” Smith, alto saxophonist, arranger, and one of the unsung heroes of the Cleveland jazz scene passed away on December 1, 2009 from cancer. A close friend and disciple of Tadd Dameron (also from Cleveland), Willie in the 1940s and 50s played alongside Dameron, Benny Bailey, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. He also contributed his sound and ideas to the bands of Lionel Hampton, Scatman Carruthers, the Motown explosion of the 1960s, and Brother Jack McDuff’s Heating System in the 70s. Most recently Willie’s orchestrations can be heard on my Grammy-winning Blue Note release 52nd Street Themes” (2000) as well as On This Day: At the Vanguard (2003) and in concert with the Joe Lovano Nonet. Smith has also contributed his insights on Tadd Dameron in a soon to be released book Dameronia written by Paul Combs for The University of Michigan press. Willie was one of my mentors and teachers and a true natural Be Bop master.
By Joe LovanoOriginally Published