Jazz guitarist Cyd Smith began a life in music nearly 40 years ago, when she dropped out of the classical guitar program at Stanford University to join a San Francisco Bay Area jug band.
Her story describes an era when folk music flourished across the country, and young musicians could choose to lead itinerant lives, traveling to new cities with nothing but their instruments and a willingness to join local music communities.
Smith embraced this way of life, playing guitar in San Francisco, Boston, Nashville, Tenn., and throughout Europe before settling in the mid-'70s in the Pacific Northwest. In bands based out of Seattle, Portland and Corvallis, her playing evolved from bluegrass and country-blues into western swing and jazz.
Seattle furnished Smith's niche in the '90s, when a booming swing-dance craze created a demand for live big bands. Everywhere she went, Smith worked to support and be a part of a larger community of musicians.
Smith brought her musical sensibility to Southern Oregon in 2002, first living in Williams then moving to Ashland about a year ago. She continues to play a variety of musical styles, from contra dance music with The Generic String Band to her own solo performances as a singer and songwriter. Her first musical love, however, is jazz guitar.
"I'm mostly a swing and rhythm player," Smith says. "Freddie Green is my guy."
Green played guitar in the Count Basie Orchestra. Other influences include Charlie Christian and the great Texas swing guitarist Junior Barnard.
Smith says she loves music dedicated to melody, harmonic structure and lyrics. For her, this describes the Great American Songbook, a term that refers to the canon of American music written from the '20s through the '40s, forming what jazz players call standards.
Still traveling on music, Smith teaches guitar and songwriting at what she describes as "weeklong summer camps for adults" — such as the annual Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, where she has been a member of the faculty since 1984. Ever-engaged in her lifelong musical journey, Smith also remains a student, studying under local legend Bil Leonhart.
"Bil is my hero," she says. "He's a guitar player's guitar player."
When Smith moved to Ashland and looked around for a teacher who could "expand her harmonic library," she says, Leonhart was the obvious answer. Musically, the two hit it off so well that they perform together under the name HartSmith.
The duo plays from 4 to 6 p.m. every other Sunday at The Playwright Public House, 258 A St., Ashland. (The Ed Dunsavage Trio holds down the other half of The Playwright's Sunday jazz calendar). HartSmith's next show is Jan. 27.
Smith also has formed a new trio with saxophonist and vocalist Dennis Freese and drummer Mike Whipple. Freese shares Smith's love of the Great American Songbook and sophisticated song structure. A songwriter himself, Freese shares singing duties with Smith. Of particular note are the handful of tunes they sing together, in smooth, laid-back harmony.
The workhorse of the group, Smith's guitar plays the bass line as well as chords. Freese plays clarinet, flute and saxophones. The trio performs again at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at The Wild Goose, 2365 Highway 66, Ashland.
Smith will join The Generic String Band for the Ashland Folk Music Club's monthly contra dance from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, at The Grove, 1195 E. Main St., Ashland.