Born: May 14, 1934 Primary Instrument: Percussion
Smith was born in Chicago, Illinois, into a musical family; his father played saxophone and clarinet with Noble Sissle and Jimmy Noone, and his mother was a harpist and pianist. He studied clarinet under his father from age four. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1957, then took a master's in percussion at the Manhattan School of Music in 1958. One of his earliest major recording dates was with Miles Davis as a vibraphonist in 1957. He found work in Broadway pit bands in 1958, and also played with Gil Evans that year. In 1961 he co-founded the Composers Workshop Ensemble, a New York-based jazz composition and performance ensemble which released two albums for Strata-East Records. In the 1960s Smith accompanied Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Lloyd Price, and Nat King Cole; he worked with Sam Rivers from 1964-76 and with Gil Evans again from 1968 to 1976. In 1969 he played with Janis Joplin and in 1971 with Tony Williams Lifetime. He was also a founding member of Max Roach's percussion ensemble, M'Boom, in 1970. Through the 1970s Smith played with Andrew White, Julius Hemphill, Muhal Richard Abrams, Nancy Wilson, Quincy Jones, Count Basie, and Carmen McRae. Other credits include extensive work with rock and pop musicians and time spent with Anthony Braxton, Charles Mingus, Henry Threadgill, Van Morrison, and Joe Zawinul. In the 1970s and 1980s Smith had a loft called Studio Wis which acted as a performing and recording space for many young New York jazz musicians, such as Wadada Leo Smith and Oliver Lake. He continued to work on Broadway into the 1990s, and has performed with a number of classical ensembles. He taught in the New York City public school system from 1958 to 1968, at Third Street Settlement from 1960 to 1967, at Adelphi University in 1970-71, and at SUNY- Old Westbury from 1971.