Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

July/August 2012: Will Bonness

Gary Smulyan: Little Bighorn

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When you think about baritone sax, you might think of a gruff sound, almost grotesque, and a horn that can be cumbersome.

Saxophonist Gary Smulyan completely rewrites those expectations. He has a beautiful tone all over the horn. His high end sounds like a countertenor, smooth and high and warm. His low end is strong and punchy and powerful. His lyrical ideas? It’s like melody after melody when he plays—you never have the sense of scales or harmony. He has wit, he has humour, he has poetry.

Smulyan has a great pedigree as a performer. In his mid-twenties, he moved to New York City where he has worked steadily with a whole series of extraordinary bands, from the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra to the Mingus Epitaph Band, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, and the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

He has performed and recorded with such luminaries as trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Stan Getz, pianist Chick Corea, salsa king Tito Puente, and R&B legends Ray Charles, BB King, and Diana Ross. He continues to perform with Joe Lovano’s Nonet and Dave Holland’s Octet and Big Band.

He has a handful of Grammy awards for his work with King, Lovano, Holland, and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and he has almost a dozen acclaimed recordings as a leader. Over and over he has topped the polls for both readers and critics. He has been named Best Baritone Saxophonist by Downbeat at least four times, and appeared on the cover of the magazine this past February. He has also topped the list of baritone players for the Jazz Times Critics Poll, and for the Jazz Journalists Association awards, including the one just released this June.

Earlier this year, he released a new recording, Smul’s Paradise. It’s getting rave reviews—but who is surprised? This musician is an icon! We are so fortunate to have him here as a special guest artist at this year’s U of M Jazz Camp in August. The students will be inspired by his talent and propelled forward in their own playing by his warmth and insight.

But we’re not keeping him to ourselves at the Jazz Camp. Winnipeg audiences have a chance to hear him create his magic on stage at the Live on the Rooftop concert at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on August 22. With Derrick on trumpet and Will at the keyboard, we’ll have such a high potential for expressiveness—it will be about artistry and complexity, not about pyrotechnics. You can secure tickets in advance through the website:

You can also come down to The Hang that Monday and hear Smulyan light the club on fire—but call ahead, because The Orbit Room is gonna be packed!

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