Born in Chicago, Illinois, Warren I. Smith, Jr. (W.I.S. to the people close to him) entered the professional music world at the early age of fourteen, working in various family bands in the late 1940ís and later in the mid-50ís with Captain Walter H. Dyettís concert and marching bands. Warren Smith has firm roots grounded in the Chicago south side music scene. Along with other emissaries & visionaries such as Johnny Griffin, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) -- including Lester Bowie, Don Moye, Amina Myers, Joseph Jarman, et al., and a host of other jazz and blues players from the era, Warren is a part of an essential element in the development and definition of Afro-American music.

Warren relocated to New York City in 1957, and completed his Masters of Music at the Manhattan School of Music in 1958. That same year brought his first jazz gig in New York City with Kenny Burrell at Mintonís Play House. W.I.S. played Birdland in 1959 with Gil Evans, and from 1960-1972 worked regularly with Johnny Richardsí big band. It was around that time that Warren began extensive work both in the studios and on Broadway. To his credit are the original Broadway production, road production, and 2nd Broadway run of West Side Story; Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music; and Jellyís Last Jam (on the life of Jelly Roll Morton).

Though already an articulate voice within the jazz community, Warren Smith found himself deep inside the Motown scene throughout the 1960ís and 70ís. Being the unsung percussionist on the scene with Bernard Purdie, Warren played on all the early Gladys Knight and the Pipsí 45 hit singles; performed on numerous occasions with Dionne Warwick; did several tours, recording sessions and TV dates with Harry Bellafonte; backed up Nat King Cole on his 8 week summer tour of New England, 1964; played the RíníR shows with Murray the K. in Brooklyn; toured with Barbara Streisand throughout U.S. in 1965; worked on the ABC, New York, staff orchestra 1964-67 (including the Jimmy Dean Show and the Les Crane/Nippsy Russell Show); recorded on the only collaborative album done by Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell; served as Janis Joplinís musical director in 1969, playing the Ed Sullivan Show, the San Francisco Ice Palace and the only Europe tour; recorded, toured and did live TV performances with Aretha Franklin from 1965-1978, including a performance at the 1971 Montreaux Jazz Festival -- which he also played with Tony Williams Lifetime Ego that same year.

Concurrent with his extensive Motown and studio work, Warren Smith began to teach at Adelphi University in 1969, and later at the State University of New York, Old Westbury in 1971, where he has remained as a tenured professor in the music department. Never loosing sight however of his roots, throughout such a diversified performance career, Warren has remained a prominent percussionist and drummer within the Jazz world, performing, touring and recording with every progressive -- from Charles Mingus to Miles Davis, from Muhal Richard Abrams to Sam Rivers, Max Roach, MíBoom, Jabbo Ware, David Murray, Sonny Sharock, Anthony Davis and too many other masters to encapsulate here. A book would be needed to fully cover this manís history.

Currently Warren is working with Jack Jeffers New York Classic, Jabbo Wareís Me, We and Them Orchestra, and several other small groups, both locally on the New York scene and internationally. He is leading his 30 plus year established Composers Workshop Ensemble, and does numerous solo, duet and trio performances and recordings. In addition, Warren Smith continues to teach music at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and directs Chelsea Performing Arts/Studio W.I.S., his non-profit performance/rehearsal space in Manhattan.

For more information, please check out his recent features in All About Jazz:

Warren Smith: Interview by Clifford Allen
Warren Smith: My Musical Life In New York City

Updated on Dec 09 ’04