Jonathan “Chief” Smith picked up the guitar at age 4, serenading his family on a Mickey Mouse guitar. By age 6 he put down the guitar in favor of Tonka trucks and Lincoln Logs. His musical experience continued with a cursory year of clarinet in grade school. In his 20’s he took up tenor saxophone, learning the basics and then playing for a couple of years in a Portland jazz group. The tenor sax was shelved for over 20 years as he devoted full time focus on his fire service career. He finally picked up the guitar seriously in 1999. Since then he hasn’t looked back.
Though mostly self-taught, Smith has studied with Dan Balmer as well as having the good fortune to attend master classes taught by Bruce Forman, Ron Eschete, John Stowell, Mike Bloomfield, and Graham Dechter. He also recalls a memorable impromptu lesson with the great Bucky Pizzarelli. Smith cites many influences, but the primary ones are Robert Hutchens, Jimmy Heath, Benny Green, Randy Johnston, Terry Haggerty, and, Charlie Parker.
His nickname, “the 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 been fortunate to play in various Portland area venues such as Tony Starlight’s, The Globe, Terrace Kitchen, Vintner’s Cellar, and the Afrique.
Smith has also made many friends and acquaintances in the jazz community. Several of his best musical friends can be heard on his first recorded compact disc: Jonathan Smith Quintet - en route - including veteran pianist/composer/arranger Bo Ayars, a steadily performing player in Portland, OR; saxophonist Sam Solano, a multi-instrumentalist involved in many musical endeavors; in-demand NY bass player Robert Stragnell; and Matt Farina, another busy Portland musician, on drums.