Saratoga na­tive re­turn­ing to Spa City for jazz fes­ti­val

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - By Lau­ren Hal­li­gan lhal­li­[email protected]­i­tal­first­

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


Kansas Smitty’s House Band will per­form on the Jazz Dis­cov­ery Stage on June 30 at the 2019 Frei­hofer’s Saratoga Jazz Fes­ti­val.

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