Saratoga native returning to Spa City for jazz festival
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> Spa City native and jazz musician Giacomo Smith of Kansas Smitty’s House Band is coming back to his hometown to play at Saratoga Performing Arts Center for the 2019 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival.
Since graduating from Saratoga Springs High School in 2005, Smith’s music career has taken him far and wide - from Boston, Montreal and New York City to a jazz bar in London - but most recently it’s brought him back to the place where it all began.
“It really started with my mom,” Smith said of his love for music. A Skidmore employee, Smith’s mother would often take him to on-campus concerts and theater productions that ignited his interest in the arts.
“When I was a kid I would get to see stuff that the Skidmore Orchestra would be putting on and various people coming through,” Smith recalled. “When you’re a young kid, you see it in a different way. It’s all new.”
Smith also has fond memories of teachers in middle school and high school that further expanded his musical knowledge and abilities.
Though Smith ventured away from jazz and into the classical realm during his college years, “I never really left it in my mind,” he said.
Now, Smith has created a successful career playing saxophone and clarinet in the internationally acclaimed Kansas Smitty’s House Band, which features musicians from all different corners of the London jazz scene.
After establishing the band, the musicians embarked on the ambitious entrepreneurial endeavor of opening a jazz bar, also called Kansas Smitty’s, in London’s Broadway Market. Kansas Smitty’s serves as a venue for both Kansas Smitty’s House Band and other musicians from throughout the London area and beyond.
After traveling the globe and landing in London, Smith still believes that Saratogians are lucky to have access to the best art in the world. “It’s really fertile ground for somebody who’s young and hungry in the arts,” he said.
While Smith has played lots of gigs both near and far, being on the bill at SPAC for the Saratoga Jazz Festival is special. “This will be my first Jazz Festival performing, but I used to go every year,” he said.
“I’ve lived in London for eight years now and done a lot of stuff over here, done gigs that are big for people that are from here, but it’s funny that if you grow up in a place, and do a gig that you’ve wanted to do since you were really young, it means a lot,” Smith continued. “For me, I’ve done some stuff over here that’s been really big for the people that I’ve been playing with, whereas for me going to Saratoga and playing at the Jazz Festival is like a much bigger deal, because I went to that festival every year.”
Nearly a decade since the last time he attended the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, “I’m really looking forward to going back,” he said.
Smith and his band are scheduled to perform from 11 to 11:45 a.m. on Sunday on the Charles R. Wood Jazz Discovery Stage at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Along with this Saratoga Springs High School alum, the upcoming 2019 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival is also shining the spotlight on young local musicians from the Saratoga Springs High School Jazz Ensemble and Shaker High School Jazz Ensemble.
For the first time in the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival’s 42-year history, these local high school ensembles will perform on the amphitheater stage to kickoff the festival at 12:45 p.m. on June 29 and 11:45 a.m. on June 30, respectively.
Like Smith, these musicians are eager for their debut performance at SPAC. “Many students performing at the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival are seniors in our program. To have the opportunity to perform on SPAC’s stage before iconic jazz artists makes for an outstanding last concert for these students. After learning about this performance, the students’ motivation and energy has soared to an all-time high,” said Milton Lee, Saratoga Springs High School Ensemble department head at Saratoga Springs City Schools, in a press release.
“While the festival has always been known for its incredible, international jazz musicians, this year we are giving students and our local artists a platform to showcase their talents,” added SPAC president and CEO Elizabeth Sobol. “For the kids who will perform, it is a unique opportunity to play on the same stage as Grammy Award winners and legends like Norah Jones and George Benson.”
The Saratoga Springs High School students will also participate in a private meet and greet with multi Grammy award-winning bassist, composer and educator John Patitucci, before his performance on June 29 with the Mercy Project. Award-winning singer, saxophonist, and songwriter Grace Kelly will hold a dedicated meet and greet with the Shaker High School Jazz Ensemble following their performance on June 30. Both student groups will also have the opportunity to learn about the music industry from festival producer and president of Absolutely Live Entertainment LLC Danny Melnick.
“Saratoga is an incredible jazz city, known for nurturing local talent through its many institutions, anchored by SPAC and the Skidmore Jazz Institute,” Sobol continued, noting that Skidmore Jazz Institute alum Trombone Shorty will perform at the festival as well.
The 2019 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival is slated for Saturday, June 29 and Sunday, June 30 at SPAC. Now in its 42nd year, the festival includes a roster of 22 musical groups, highlighted by the festival debut of Grammy award winning artist Norah Jones, and the return of jazz legend George Benson and festival favorite Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.
More details about the festival, including ticket information, is available online at spac.org.
Kansas Smitty’s House Band will perform on the Jazz Discovery Stage on June 30 at the 2019 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival.