Local Musician Spotlight: Matt Smiley

Jul 4, 2018

Next in our series, “Spotlight on a Local Musician,” is an introduction to bassist Matt Smiley. As I’ve said in past Spotlights, here in metro Denver and Colorado we have an exceptionally educated, talented, creative group of jazz musicians.   I’ve lived in Boston and in Philadelphia, both of which have fine musicians. I continue to be floored as I discover the depth in the field of great jazz musicianship here in Cowtown. Matt Smiley ranks right up there with our best.

I discovered Matt playing and paying homage to the great Charles Mingus. Mingus was an innovative composer, bassist, bandleader and recording artist who defined the hard bop era at least as much as any other artist. Matt’s group consisted of Tom Gershwin on trumpet, Heath Walton on tenor sax, and Brian Claxton on drums at Nocturne (Dru Heller at a Blind Tiger event). They played mostly Mingus tunes but, as a composer, Smiley did add a few of his own creations.  Mingus was a creative genius and a hard guy to work with.  Smiley was his musical peer, but with a big grin to show how much fun he was having!

Matt has two albums out as well as appearing on several Dazzle releases including those by Josh Quinlan, Annie Booth, and Ryan Fourt. His two albums offer beautiful work of avant-free music that’s immensely pleasing and intelligent. 

His debut album, Quartet Art (2012 on Dazzle Recordings) includes David Pope on tenor saxophone, Josh D. Reed on trumpet, Ryan Fourt on guitar, and Matthew Coyle on drums and percussion.  This free-form album contains a few very melodic tunes to round out the more unstructured improvisational pieces.  All but one piece was composed by Smiley. That piece is Smiley’s version of Charlie Hayden’s “Song for Che.”   I found this work available on Amazon as well as CD Baby. 

Smiley’s second project is called “Peaceful Contact Proved Elusive” and was a joint effort with guitarist Alex Nauman. Every tune on the album was written by Smiley and Nauman. The album has been described as “This guitar and bass duo explores the fringes of polite music through compositions ranging widely in scope from rubato ballads to wild free improvisations.” It was released on Dazzle recordings in 2014.

Matt Smiley is a bassist, composer, and educator who has performed in a variety of musical settings over the last 15 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in music industry with a jazz studies minor and a master’s of music in jazz studies. He has performed both nationally and internationally at universities throughout the country and at the Montreux, North Sea, and Montreal Jazz Festivals, and recently in Costa Rica with Josh Quinlan.

Watch for the upcoming release in the next couple of months of another original CD featuring Josh Reed on trumpet, Briana Harris on sax, Alex Nauman on guitar, and Dru Heller on drums. The release will be under the band name “Art Deco” with the album name “Free Range.” Also mark your calendar for August 2, when he’ll appear at Dazzle with Josh Reed and Dru Heller.