Legendary drummer Steve Smith brings his band to Beijing
By Yang Ran
One of the best drummers of our time, Steve Smith, has been touring and recording with his group Vital Information – a formidable jazz/fusion group – since 1983. This weekend, the quartet presented two mind-blowing concerts at Blue Note Beijing.
In an intimate setting, with great sound, it was an opportunity to see Steve Smith and his band, appreciating the details of their high-level musicianship, feel their sense of joy on stage, and experience virtuosic improvisation.
Smith has said that Vital Information's music allows for individual expression and re-invention. He said the band thrives on creativity and strives to surprise each other with new ideas on the bandstand while keeping the audience "in the moment" with them.
And they truly did, when the band overwhelmed the audience members in Beijing with progressive changes of the melody. Especially when they played some pieces inspired by Konnakol, an incredible art form of vocal percussion from South India.
Drummer Steve Smith. /CGTN Photo

Drummer Steve Smith. /CGTN Photo

"It was in the early 1970s to the late 1970s, and it was so much music in the culture. It was jazz, traditional jazz and later people played electric jazz. And then we played R&B and rock. All the musicians that I played with... We played everything. Because we all tried to make a living, and we were all open-minded. So when it comes a time for us to get together and make music, we have a lot of options. Plus, I've been studying and playing rhythms from India for about 18 years. So that influence found its way into the music of Vital Information," Steve Smith said.
Steve's over three-decade link with the rock-n-roll band Journey is also remarkable. In 1985, he quit Journey and turned to focus on jazz. Then in 2016, he rejoined the group, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with them, and started touring again.
Smith says that he feels like he has a very good balance in his musical life, and he can do both rock and jazz.
"Actually I started as a jazz musician. When I was young, I considered myself a jazz musician. In my high school years, then I went to Berklee College of Music when I was 18 to study jazz. So that's my foundation. Because I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, it was naturally to play rock. So after I play jazz exclusively for many years, I was offered to play in Journey. They heard me play and invited me to be in the band. And it sounded like an interesting idea so I joined. So it's something interesting and I can adapt myself to play that role. But ultimately I prefer to play jazz. That is more rewarding and more interesting," Steve Smith said.
Over the years, Smith has won a number of Modern Drummer reader's polls, including "No. 1 All-Around Drummer" five years in a row. In 2001, he was named "one of the Top 25 Drummers of All Time," and in 2002 he was voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
Steve Smith and Vital Information NYC Edition will have concerts in Kunming, Shenzhen and Zhuhai in June.