Smooth jazz guitarist Ronny Smith dedicated his song "Falling In Love With Jesus" from his recent album Simply Stated to his parents. He professes, "Music affects people in many different ways. I only hope that any music I perform, play, or write will have a positive affect with the G-rating.
Indeed his album Simply Stated has a smooth jazz G-rating, perfect for spreading good vibes and a gentle mood across the room. These positive feelings were a staple of his upbringing while growing up in Baltimore, Maryland with parents who were active in the church. "Music was a large part of my family," he shares. "My mother sang on the church choir. My father directed and played piano for the choir and was also a Baltimore Public School music instructor."
It was his parents who gave Ron his first guitar. "I think it was a K-mart special, purchased by my parents," he recalls. "I had to show that I was interested before they splurged for the big one. I was shown my first bar chord by a friend of my family who brought his guitar with him during a summer visit. He could really play. He played everything from Hendrix to Montgomery. I wanted him to just wave a wand so that I could play just like him but it didn't happen that way. Matter of fact, it took a while to configure my fingers to play that bar chord."
His interest in the guitar has a profound meaning. "It is and I'm sure will always be a challenge for me," he admits. "There are so many different ways to execute the various chords and melodic lines that I enjoy the find, seek and adapt exploration that this instrument introduces."
Smith’s early musical experiences were centered around school and the church. "The opportunities that I had were primarily in the schools and the educational institutions that I attended. There I had the opportunity to meet and jam with other musicians. Growing up in a religious household didn't allow me to get too involved with the city scene, so I didn't get involved in the music scene outside of schools."
After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Maryland where he was working towards a degree in music education when in his junior year one of his professors, Dr. George Ross suggested that he join the US Army and play in the Army Band.
"I joined the Army in 1981. The idea was introduced to me by one of music instructor’s while attending University of Maryland during my junior year. My instructor, Dr. George Ross had performed with the Navy Commodores - a Navy jazz Big Band on numerous occasions. He was also the jazz band instructor for the University. One day, he asked me what were my plans and intentions as a musicians after graduating as a music major. At the time, even though I was a music education major, I really didn't want to teach and I knew my skills as classical guitarist were not going to provide me a descent living. So he introduced me to the military band system, which prior to that I had no idea it even existed. I auditioned and was excepted as a guitarist. My senior year, I left for basic training. Like anything else the fear of the unknown exists. But once there, that all was put to rest. Matter of fact I really don’t have a horror story about that training. I got from it everything the training was set to improve - paying attention to detail and improve your discipline level. Much of what you take with you as a musician anyway. As far as the colleagues and superiors, I was treated no different then any of my peers who was there with me. Except on occasions when I would excel or screw up on a tasks, they would say, ‘Oh yeah, he’s with the band.’ It was all good though."
He cites some lessons which he learned in the US Army as, "The military stresses attention to detail and discipline. That attitude is carried with you whether practicing or performing. In saying that, if you have a group of people practicing and performing with a focus of ‘game on,’ you tend to improve because of your concentration level."
He reminisces, "There were many," special performances he played with the Army Band. "Anytime that I was providing troop morale or providing community support I could see in the audience who the performances affected. Our job as musicians really hit many right in the heart, some reasons more obvious than others."
Smith was offered a music scholarship from the National Association Of Music Merchants which augmented his scholarship from Elizabeth City State University where he completed his Bachelor Of Arts degree in music education. "I took a brake in military service to complete my BA. I mentioned previously I did not want to teach, nor to continue to pursue a classical guitarist career path. Elizabeth City State University not only had a music business program, for which worked well for me, but offered me a scholarship as well. There in addition to the music program scholarship, I also received a scholarship from the National Association of Music Merchants - NAMM. My degree is in music business, recently changed to music industry studies."
Afterwards, he acquired a masters degree in organizational management from the University Of Phoenix. He notes the "University had a very good program and was financially suitable for my needs at that time." He expresses strongly, "My greatest asset is myself. I am a firm believer of self development. This is something that no one can take from you. You earn this development, it’s not given."
All throughout college, Smith played in jazz bands and made friends with many musicians including bass player, George Jones. He mentions, "Although we haven't played together in a few years, we did kept in contact for a long while."
Smith branched out on his own, becoming a solo artist in 2000 with the recording of his demo album Long Time Comin’ released in 2001. "As a guitarist. I’ve learned that bands can do with you or without you regardless of your abilities." He describes, "Your job is a filler, so I started thinking more independently outside the band box. Thus, this project was developed. I wanted to know first if I was capable of doing this. That is not only the guitar parts, but if I could put my hearing to test to see if I could bring out what I have learned and heard over the years into a composition. I have to say Long Time Comin’ was an effort, but I knew I’ve got a harder road ahead than I thought."
Long Time Comin’ was his first step into becoming a solo artist which the jazz community accepted without being coaxed. "I actually had radio airplay and interviews mainly from college stations (like) WRVS and Towson State radio to name a few."
His second album Laid Back, he says, "were new compositions," in line with his mantra of making G-rated smooth jazz compositions which he heard from influences like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and George Benson.
His follow up album Got Groove extended his fan base with songs that made a lasting impression on audiences. He also began playing his guitar similarly to a bass, imprinting comfy bumps along the melodic phrases and choosing selective spots to accentuate the guitar chords resonance impacting the melodies with incandescent sparks. Bass players are special to Smith as he chose "Wayman Tisdale," as someone whom he would love to collaborate with telling "I like his bass playing and musical style."
Ron Smith began playing his guitar in a more challenging way for the recording of Got Groove, partly inspired by the musicians whom he had on board. "George Campbell on sax, David Glading on drums, Chris Rhodes on bass, and Trendle Thomas on keys. I think the songs came together fairly quickly. I have performed with these musicians on numerous occasions and was quite comfortable with their styles and skills. In turn each of them were comfortable with each other as well."
He continued to challenge his skills as a guitarist and delved into composing keyboard programs as well on his latest release Simply Stated. On this album, the guitar is so ingrained in the melodies that it becomes a part of the graceful fluid motions. You cannot tell a guitar is even there other than a few moments when Smith spikes the chords making ridges along the progressions. He explains, "On this CD, I kinda went back to a few of the songs that I had previously done on previous CDs. I felt at this stage that I was getting better with my songwriting and I wanted to re-arrange some the tunes. Helping put the icing on the cake was Tony Whitfield on bass, Dexter Whitaker on bass, Vernell Mincy on drums, George Campbell on sax, and Gerald Chavis on trumpet and flugelhorn."
For Simply Stated he reveals, "I would like to take advantage of every opportunity that offers itself, as well as those that I am able to make happen for this CD. I hope this CD provides me a step closer toward establishing myself as a better musician and musical career."
Each junction along Smith’s path has progressed him forward, but he reflects that the entire journey has been one great big challenge for him. "Every aspect of this has been a challenge for me. From writing the material, getting the musician together, CD manufacturing, marketing, advertising, establishing jobs, financial aspects But I love what I’m doing."
Ronny Smith takes his work home with him surfing the Internet in search of new music styles and players. "I get lost in internet space like everyone else." he chuckles. "That is, I start of in one direction with one intention of not spending a lot of time on this, and before you know it I’m off into a 2 hour surf from checking out musicians on myspace to checking out music business sites."
Fans will likely want to check out Ron Smith’s music on myspace at http://www.myspace.com/ronnysmith1. His publicist, Cheryl Hughey claims, "You hear touches of Wes Montgomery intermixed with ultra cool nighttime grooves that are all Ronny Smith. Smith’s touch on the strings has a melodic voice without a heavy hand. He grooves, caresses and works his way through a song with maturity beyond his years,"
His music has a smooth jazz G-rating that exudes of positive feelings and soothing expressions so simply stated. He makes challenging guitar chords sound subtle and meshes them into the overall goodness of the music. The guitar is to Smith what eggs are to a Baker. It is the ingredient in the mix that keeps all the other ingredients together and induces the batter to have a savory suppleness, but most of all, it is the element that makes the product so good. Without it, you don’t have a product. Smith is happy to be a part of making good music by simply adding his guitar to the mix.