‘An earworm that never left:’ Columbus musician struts around with musical gifts
For jazz musician Miles Smith, the poignant sounds of classical strings and soothing tunes by Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and other genre legends echoed through his home.
There was never a dull moment, said Smith, 21. Every morning his ears were filled with the reverberating sounds of trumpets, saxophones and piano keys, with jazz seemingly becoming a go-to.
And with both parents musicians and devoted music teachers at Ohio State University, the Fort Collins, Colorado native – who moved to Columbus when he was 12 – said his peak as an instrumentalist was a quasi-formality.
“I like to joke that I was either going to be a musician or be disowned by my parents,” Smith joked.
Named after American trumpeter Miles Davis, Smith, now a Dublin resident, learned drums aged 3 before switching to trumpet in sixth grade. From there, “jazz was an earworm that never left its body,” Smith said.
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“That was the turning point,” he said. “I take the trumpet in sixth grade and I think, ‘Maybe this will work. I picked it up, notes started coming out, it was pretty good.”
Instead, his affinity for jazz music became deeply embedded within him, becoming a sequential part of his daily life. And while many of his age gravitated to other popular R&B and hip-hop artists, he leaned toward the genre that got its start in the backwaters of New Orleans.
“It’s something to be proud of,” he said. “Jazz becoming a lost art, but still very present even in 2021, is something I’m very proud of. It found its way to me, and jazz music felt right to me.”
An affinity for teaching
Now Smith is a member of the OSU Jazz Emsemble and the OSU Fusion Jazz Ensemble, led by his father Mike Smith.
Holding a photo of a young Miles Smith resting in his arms as he led a band, Mike, 61, watches in awe as his son grows artistically.
“He has an absolutely amazing ear,” Mike said. “He can hear (the sounds) and spit them out. He had an intimate relationship with the trumpet. He could understand them and play them.
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Mike, a lecturer and jazz teacher at OSU, said that even in those early days, he knew Miles would grow into an incredible artist.
It never shocked him. What surprised him was Smith’s affinity for teaching, a role he swore never to play.
“I’m thrilled,” Mike said. “I really am.
“Me and his mum laugh about it because they seemed to be doing more than teaching. Both found they excelled at it. It’s funny but heartwarming to see it happen. I love it. hear him giving lessons on Zoom to people and I marvel at how good he is at it.
Between his OSU commitments, Smith works as an instructor at various Columbus-area schools and previously taught at the Lincoln Theater, a place he frequented often as he developed his own mastery of the leadpipe.
Smith’s influence on local musicians
Gamal Brown, associate director of the Lincoln Theatre, said Smith’s involvement there was an incredible addition and provided assistance in the development of local musicians through practice and education.
“I would love to see organizations use (Smith) as the poster boy for what jazz is all about in the city,” Brown, 49, said. “They would benefit from him as a source,”
Smith said he worked as an instructor to inspire other young black children to embrace their inner musician, just as his teachers and mentors did for him.
Besides the influence of his parents, Smith credits the mentor-mentee relationships he developed with famous musicians and former teachers for his musical maturation.
Having met and briefly tutored Smith when he attended OSU, 32-year-old Jon Lampley said he had the talent right off the bat.
Lampley, who currently plays with house band “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” was quick to recognize Smith’s desire to be great during their time together.
Listening to Smith, Lampley said he knew he had the tools to be a great musician.
“I gravitate around people who are inspiring and uplifting, and being able to have a direct line of inspiration at an early stage is really cool,” he said. “I’m excited to see how Smith is progressing, and hopefully we can make music in the not-too-distant future.”
Anthony Stanco, 32, Smith’s former trumpet teacher at OSU, said the young musician’s budding talents are only surpassed by his dedication to the craft.
“I’ve always been blown away by his talent,” said Stanco, who currently works as a professor at Michigan State University. “To play this music, you have to be close to the culture, and Smith does that.”
Based on the transcription of solos by Miles Davis and fellow trumpeter Clifford Brown, Stanco said that given Smith’s love of the genre, the sky’s the limit.
“If you take care of the music, the music will take care of you,” he said. “It’s huge, and I don’t see him having a national name that far. As his former instructor, I’m going to help as much as I can.”
As his young music career progresses, Smith said there are many things he wants to pursue. Although graduate school is a possibility, he has thought about a full-time role with the Jazz Arts Group or the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and, more recently, teaching at the college level like both of his parents.
But above all, Smith says he wants to reach the heights of Lampley and others who have inspired him.