Johnny Smith, one of the legendary jazz guitar performers of the 1950s and 1960s, is also an outstanding performer on trumpet, violin and viola! A self educated performer he cites classical guitar performer Andres Segovia and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt as his main influences. Smith, whose father was a banjo player and guitarist, first developed an interest in the guitar at the age of 5.
In 1935 Smith’s family relocated to Portland, Maine. By that time Smith was already an exceptional guitar player. He obtained his initial professional experience in 1939 performing in a hillbilly group, “The Fenton Brothers”. He led his own jazz trio in Boston 1940 – 1941 before joining the US Air Force. During the war he performed cornet in the Air Force Band. Immediately after leaving the Air Force in 1946 he transferred back to Portland and played trumpet and guitar for a local radio station as well as club jobs at nights. Music career prospects were not good in Portland, so later that year Johnny Smith transferred to New York where he became an NBC staff musician. For the next 8 years he performed both trumpet and guitar as well as composing and arranging for the network.
Johnny Smith first obtained international prominence as a jazz performer in the 1950s when he joined a quintet with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. Their arrangement and recording of “Moonlight in Vermont” grew to become a jazz classic, epitomising the term ‘cool’ jazz. One of the very best selling jazz records of 1952, this record remains as a milestone in jazz guitar history. It is differentiated by Johnny Smith’s virtuoso single note playing and by the unique harmonies of his chords on the guitar.
From 1953 – 1957, Johnny Smith effectively led his own group in East Coast jazz clubs and recorded over 20 recordings for the Royal Roost label. Always engaged in guitar layout and construction, Smith, right after working with Guild Guitars for a brief while in the 1950s, has had a long affiliation with the Gibson Guitar Company. Their Johnny Smith Model guitar has been one of their most famous jazz archtop models since its introduction in 1960. In 1957, right after unexpected demise of his wife, Smith made a decision to settle in Colorado Springs, Colorado with his four year old daughter. He wanted to be near the rest of his family. From that time on he proceeded to go into virtual retirement from professional performance. Since the early 1960s he has devoted most of his time to his professional guitar shop in Colorado Springs. In 1977 he joined Bing Crosby’s backing group for a successful worldwide concert tour, which ended shortly before the singer’s demise.
Peabody Conservatory trained guitarist Steven Herron helps guitar players become better guitarists. His company ChordMelody.com features an enormous selection of jazz guitar tablature sheet music
as well as instructional material by Johnny Smith himself. Find out more and claim Steven’s popular free monthly guitar lesson e-course available at: =>
Johnny Smith guitar tablatures