Taking a bow: Dr. Larry Smithee bids a 21-year career goodbye at Friday’s recital
By Steve Wildsmith (email@example.com)
Friday night won’t be the final time Dr. Larry Smithee takes the stage at the Clayton Center for the Arts, but it will be his last faculty jazz recital.
After 21 years and change as associate professor of music at Maryville College, Smithee will perform one more time for fellow instructors, students and local residents. It’s an opportunity for the jazz aficionado to demonstrate that his own education is still an ongoing process, he told The Daily Times this week.
“There’s a false perception that we come into a job like this or at some university somewhere, and we’ve got it all together — but really, it’s a lifelong learning experience,” Smithee said. “I’m still growing musically right alongside the students, although at a different level. Comparing my performance level with what it was 21 years ago when I arrived at the college, it’s greatly different.
“I’m a much better performer now. In some ways, there are some age things that affect me, but there are some mental things that are terribly important and make me perform better and more efficiently.”
Smithee, set to retire at the end of the spring semester, began his trumpet studies as an 11-year-old growing up in Munford, Tenn. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from Arkansas State University and received his doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis. He served as the music arranger for the U.S. Air Force Band and a performer with the R&B group The Louisiana Purchase, performing around the country with such artists and groups as Ray Charles, Mel Torme and the Bob Hope Show.
After coming to Maryville College, Smithee got involved in leading the Maryville College Jazz Band and the Maryville College-Community Concert Band, a group he still conducts. He’s been an active pinch-hitter in the local jazz scene, filling in with various groups needing a top-shelf trumpet player, but first and foremost, he pointed out, he’s been an educator.
“I’m a serious hobbyist,” he said. “I have made my living playing many years ago, and I look at my performance as a serious hobby. The college supports me and provides me a workspace, and I have students I teach. And in exchange for that, that I get to play music now and then, I feel really good about it. It’s important to me.”
Asking him to pick a favorite student might seem akin to asking a parent to choose a favorite child, but there’s one particular MC graduate he described as his “star pupil” — Paige Wroble Martin, who called Smithee while still in high school in upstate New York, inquiring about Maryville College and the institution’s music program.
“She said, ‘I’d like to move there and go to college there,’ and I said, ‘If you can come look at our college, that’d be the thing you need to do,’” Smithee said. “She followed through and did that and went to school here — and then she ended up in the premier Air Force Jazz Band in Washington. She’s just a terrific performer.
“That’s what I’m going to miss — the students. I think one of the things about being around college-age students is that they keep you young. They’ll latch onto an idea or a concept and get so excited they start bubbling over with energy. I’m going to miss being around that, and that’s hard to duplicate anywhere but in an environment like Maryville College.”
For Friday night’s concert, Smithee will be accompanied by some of the top players in the East Tennessee jazz scene — Dr. Bill Swann, chair of MC’s Division of Fine Arts, on piano; adjunct professor of music David Slack on bass; Martin Whitaker on drums; senior music major Kevin Krapf on Latin percussion; Jeff Jennings on trombone; Morrie Bowden on clarinet and saxophone; and 2009 MC graduate and admissions counselor Emily Emadian on vocals.
“What I’ve done is put together a program of material, some of which I’ve played before, that I wanted to play for my last recital,” he said. “It’s a list of songs and tunes I really like, a couple or three of which I’ve never played before in this setting. We’re going to dip back into history a little bit along with traditional jazz music as well. I wanted to go out on a fun note and play music I just have a ball playing and think will be enjoyable to hear.
“Plus, my wife has gone all out and hired a professional caterer, so there will be good food and wine afterward, and people are invited to stop by and enjoy a little socializing with the band. We don’t want to take any of it home with us.”
Although he’ll no longer be on the instructional staff after May, Smithee will still be a part of he local music community, he added. He’ll continue to perform with the Maryville College Community Orchestra, and when opportunities come up to play in jazz or big bands, he’ll probably jump at the chance.
It is, after all, “just an opportunity to have a horn in your hand and play,” he said.