Harold E. Smith

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This artist switched from a drummer and percussionist to a specialized didjiridu player following a serious accident involving his right knee. The use of a middle initial in his credits has prevented…
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This artist switched from a drummer and percussionist to a specialized didjiridu player following a serious accident involving his right knee. The use of a middle initial in his credits has prevented Harold E. Smith from being confused with an earlier drummer of the same name that played on rhythm and blues records -- but not in every single instance. Fans of avant-garde jazz began to notice Smith in the early '70s following the release of an excellent Joe McPhee side entitled Trinity, for which the percussionist received equal billing.

Bebop was the style that set Smith in playing motion as a lad in Pittsburgh, a process that involved studying flute as well as being banished to a metal oboe that only produced three distinct pitches. This minimalist approach to musical study continued with Smith's first drum teacher, none other than the giant Elvin Jones, who handed his student a rubber ball to practice with rather than a drum.

Smith went professional after moving to Washington, D.C., striking up a gigging relationship with organist Larry Young and becoming interested in modern jazz as a result. In the early '70s Smith went to New York City, fitting in to what became known as the loft jazz scene in a brief triumph of rental property over aesthetics. Smith worked with multi-instrumentalist and composer Sam Rivers, appearing on one of the latter artist's greatest sides, Crystals.

In 1975, Smith followed his new wife to Philadelphia, continuing his musical activities there as well as his "bread" career as a television and movie cameraman. In this capacity he claims to have shot footage of the original Woodstock rock festival; Smith also injured himself while on the cameraman job. His status on the Philly jazz scene has not been reduced one iota by his switch to an instrument more closely associated with aborigines and spare-changers. Smith has worked with reed player Byard Lancaster and also has an absorbing trio with Badal Roy on Indian tabla and Steve Turre on trombone and conch shells.