Jay Smith gets accused of playing too many notes.
It’s not always a compliment for jazz musicians, but the Bakersfield keyboardist and composer takes it as one. It’s become his signature and the name of his second album, which was released in November.
“I try to keep it as high-energy as possible,” says Smith, who plays 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, at Cuvee Spirit and Wine Parlor in the Tower District.
Smith is well-known in the local jazz scene. The keyboardist lived in town and studied at Fresno City College under Mike Dana and the late Andre Bush (who played on Smith’s first album). He also hosts a weekly radio show on KFSR (FM 90.7), the “Jay Smith Piano Hour.”
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He’s a jazz guy, but he isn’t tied to the genre. Along with his solo work, he has a gig recording and touring with the Latin reggae ska band Mento Buro. His Jay Smith Group recently played house band to 20 rappers at a hip-hop show in Bakersfield. It’s that kind of musical diversity he looks for in collaborators.
“I try to get people who have different musical influences than me,” he says. “It winds up being this kind of melting pot.”
His band is a revolving cast of whoever is available for a particular show. In Fresno, he’ll be joined by talk-box vocalist Marlon Mackey, drummer Cesareo Garasa, saxophonist James Russell and local guests Pat Olvera and Patrick Contreras. Smith has played with Contreras in various capacities for the last 15 years and says the violinist is a kindred spirit. He also gets accused of playing too many notes, Smith says.
The group works from a repertoire of songs from Smith’s two albums, plus covers songs like Kendrick Lamar’s “Don’t Kill my Vibe,” while being as improvisational as possible, Smith says.
His fans have come to expect to see (and hear) something new at every show. It is something the keyboardist appreciates, cultivates even.
“I don’t want to be the same every time.”