Modern Drummer's 2015 #1 Fusion Drummer
Steve Smith’s drumming, while always decidedly modern, can best be described as a style that embodies the history of U.S. music. His original love of rudimental parade drumming is evident in his intricate solos. Likewise, his command of jazz, from New Orleans music, swing, bebop, avant-garde to fusion, is applied with his powerful rock drumming sensibilities and allows him to push the boundaries of all styles to new heights. His musical focus is committed to the exploration of improvised music incorporating styles as diverse as Blues, Jazz, R&B, Funk, Cajun and South Indian Carnatic.
Originally drawn to the drums by hearing marching bands in parades as a child in his native Massachusetts, Smith began studying the drums at age nine, in 1963. After high school, Smith studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston from 1972-76. There he received valuable instruction from such renowned teachers as Gary Chaffee and Alan Dawson.
In 1974 Smith’s professional career began in full, at 19 years old, with his tenure in the Lin Biviano Big Band, which he toured and recorded with for the next two years. At that same time he also performed with bebopper Buddy DeFranco and was a member of free-jazz group The Fringe featuring George Garzone. In 1976, Smith began his association with jazz/fusion by joining violinist Jean-Luc Ponty’s group and recording the 1977 landmark fusion album Enigmatic Ocean, which also featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth. It was while touring with rocker Ronnie Montrose a year later that Smith was asked to join the popular rock band Journey which brought his playing to the attention of a rock audience.
With Journey, Smith toured around the world and recorded numerous successful albums including the immensely popular Escape (Columbia 1981) and Frontiers (Columbia 1983), both of which garnered the band many Top 40 hits and worldwide sales of over 80 million albums. In 1985 Smith left Journey to pursue his original passion, jazz, and to continue his developing career as a session player. Over the past 30+ years, Smith has played on many hits with such diverse artists as Bryan Adams, Mariah Carey, Zucchero, Claudio Baglioni, Andrea Bocelli, Y&T, Dweezil Zappa, Ray Price, Corrado Rustici and Savage Garden.
Smith began leading his own fusion band Steve Smith and Vital Information while still a member of Journey, the group recorded their first album in 1983. Vital Information’s release, Where We Come From, was voted Best Contemporary Jazz Recording Of 1998 by the Association For Independent Music. The band’s 2007 Hudson Music release, Vitalization, has gathered critical acclaim around the world. The album features Steve’s interest and abilities with rhythms from India including the South Indian rhythmic vocal art-form: Konnakol. Vital Information’s 2012 release, LIVE! One Great Night, is the first in a series of new recordings to be released to celebrate the group’s 30th Anniversary.