Jordan P Smith, Photography credit- Jonno Rattman

Following the digital release of “Reverie, Interrupted” on amazon.com, I sat down with saxophonist Jordan P Smith to discuss how the talented performer manages to balance an active teaching, conducting and performance career all while staying grounded.   

Jacob Paul: You have a duel career as a saxophonist and conductor. Do you find it difficult to balance both aspects of performing? Or do you find they compliment each other?

Jordan Smith: Since my main conducting job is conducting the Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey’s middle school and high school Saxophone Ensembles, I find that my performing and conducting do compliment each other greatly.  I think that almost any musical situation can be complemented by other musical experiences you may have had.

JP: How do you like working with youth?

JS: I love it, especially working with middle school students.  At that age, they have such an excitement for music that gets lost in all the busyness of high school.

JP: Your career has taken you all along the East coast From Florida to the greater reaches of NY State. How do you find the time to balance your Doctoral work, solo career, ensemble performances AND teaching?

JS: Sometimes it becomes very difficult, especially when preparing for a recital.  I have to be incredibly organized and maintain as much of a normalized weekly schedule as possible.  I’ve learned to make my practicing more efficient, deciding what I’m going to work on each day, although if it’s getting close to a performance, there are many late nights of practicing, for sure.  

JP: The key is to do a balance of everything in a given week if possible.What I find amazing about you, is that you somehow manage to find repertoire that allows you to collaborate with almost anyone. In fact you even regularly perform with operatic soprano Rachel Hall. One of the pieces I saw you two perform was based the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly“, a collection of poetry written by children in the Terezin Concentration Camp during the Holocaust. To this it remains one of the most profound performances I’ve had the pleasure to experience. How important is it to you to continually find repertoire that reaches beyond what the general notion of what others perceived saxophone repertoire to be?

JS: It’s very important…I mean it’s really my mission.  Most people don’t realize that the saxophone has had a rich musical history dating back to its inception around 1841.  To be sure, modern classical/contemporary saxophone gained a firm foothold in the 1930s with the composition of Glazunov’s “Concerto” and Ibert’s “Concertino da Camera“, but it was used long before then in the orchestra and opera by composers like Debussy, Bizet, Massenet, Saint-Saens, Franck, and many more.  Based off of this rich and growing heritage is an expansive wealth of chamber music for saxophone quartet and saxophone and almost every instrument imagineable.  Performing chamber music has allowed me to connect with vocalists, violinists, cellists, violists, and other woodwind instruments that I might not get to perform with on a regular basis.  And like the experience you had, I’ve always found that audiences respond well to chamber music.

JP: This past spring, you played “Reverie, Interrupted” with composer James Adler at the Yamaha Salon. How important do you feel it is for musicians to work and perform with living composers?

JS: This past spring, you played “Reverie, Interrupted” with composer James Adler at the Yamaha Salon. How important do you feel it is for musicians to work and perform with living composers?

To remain musically relevant, I believe all musicians have to keep working to produce new works in conjunction with composers.  In the 19th century, the “contemporary” music of Beethoven and Brahms was all the rage, yet in today’s musical society there is sometimes a stigma attached to new music.  I believe music should keep moving forward, though, by continuing to promote the best new works out there that explore all musical possibilities.

JP: You’ve had the opportunity to play in many different types of spaces. From intimate settings such as the the Yamaha Salon, to iconic landmarks such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art. How do you adapt to the changing environments and acoustics? Any favorite places?

JS: I carry a lot of reeds with me, haha.  My favorite performance hall I’ve had the pleasure of performing in is Knight Concert Hall at The Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.  I got to perform the saxophone part to Copland’s “Piano Concerto” there with Michael Tilson Thomas and New World Symphony.

JP: You’ve played with the New World Symphony more than once. What did you like most about the experiences you’ve had?

JS: I loved both opportunities I had to perform with them.  It’s really a one of a kind orchestra.  The most exciting part is peforming with musicians in their 20s and 30s that you know are going to end up in the top orchestras in the world.

JP: When did you first know that you wanted to do this?

JS: Well I didn’t always know.  I actually originally went to college for computer science, but switched quickly into music…I just couldn’t live without it.  I majored in music education in undergrad, but by my junior year knew I wanted to perform and teach, which ended up leading me to Manhattan School.

JP: What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming schedule?

JS: My quartet, the Manhattan Saxophone Quartet, just commissioned Jeff Nytch, a composer/professor from University of Colorado, and also a secret commission to be announced in a few months!  I’m most looking forward to premiering these new works.

The Manhattan Saxophone Quartet, Photography credit- Jonno Rattman

JP: Who inspires you most in your life?

JS: My father probably inspires me the most.  He worked himself up from living in a trailer park to being a vice-president of a company.  He has a strong faith in God and is a great example.  I definitely look to him these areas, especially in faith. Faith is something that has made this easier during the difficult times when you’re not sure where things are going.

Reverie, Interrupted is being released on the CD “Sculpting the Air” on June 28th on Navona Records.  You can get it on Amazon, etc.  The Mp3 is released now (at amazon). You can visit Jordan Smith’s website to view past and upcoming engagements by clicking HERE. 



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