Jonathan “Chief” Smith began serenading his family on a Mickey Mouse guitar when he was four years old. He took a cursory year of clarinet in grade school and dabbled in garage bands as a teenager, playing for neighbors and community gatherings.
After hearing saxophonists Eddie Harris and Robert Hutchens (who was playing in Mel Brown’s Quintet), Smith was soon hooked on jazz. In his early 20‘s he took up tenor saxophone, playing for a couple of years in a Portland jazz group. Performing took a hiatus for several years as he devoted full time focus on his fire service career. He picked up the guitar again in 1999, and since then hasn’t looked back.
Smith has studied with many greats, including: Dan Balmer, Bruce Forman, Ron Eschete, John Stowell, Mike Bloomfield, and Graham Dechter. He recalls a memorable impromptu lesson with the great Bucky Pizzarelli in Eugene, Oregon, when, in the lobby of The Shedd, they played Satin Doll together. Smith cites many influences and inspirations, but the primary ones are Robert Hutchens, Jimmy Heath, Benny Green, Randy Johnston, Terry Haggerty, and, Charlie Parker.
His nickname, “Chief,” comes from his 30-year career in firefighting where he recently retired as Deputy Fire Chief of a Portland area fire department. While building his musical repertoire he has played in various Portland area venues such as Tony Starlight’s, Dy’s Broadway Supper Club, The Globe, Terrace Kitchen, Vintner’s Cellar, and Afrique Bistro.
Among his many friends and acquaintances in the jazz community, Jonathan handpicked several of his favorites for his first recorded compact disc: Jonathan Smith Quintet - en route - including veteran pianist/composer/arranger Bo Ayars, saxophonist Sam Solano, bass player Robert Stragnell and powerhouse drummer Matt Farina.