Vocalist Henri Smith has been on the New Orleans music scene much longer than his debut album would at first make it appear. New Orleans born and bred, Smith has long been a radio personality on WWOZ, the radio arm of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. His radio show features the contemporary jazz that he loves and now sings professionally. With many connections in the music world, he frequently serves as emcee at Jazz Fest for artists such as Kermit Ruffins and Ellis Marsalis. Smith had also contributed his talents as a percussionist on the R&B group Blue Magic's Best of Blue Magic: Soulful Spell CD, made in 1996.
Meanwhile, Smith was honing his skills as a singer at gigs around the city of New Orleans. It was the crowd-pleaser Kermit Ruffins who first offered Smith a spot during his show at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, bringing the velvet-throated singer exposure to an enthusiastic audience. Ruffins then appeared on Smith's 2001 CD, New Orleans Friends and Flavours. And what friends the crooner has: Ruffins,Jason Marsalis, Donald Harrison, Bill Summers,Wendell Brunious, Roland Geurin, and Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen, just to name a few.
True to the title, Smith brings his diverse friends together to express the musical gumbo that is New Orleans. From the CD's first note on "Big Chief," a Mardi Gras Indian song most associated with Professor Longhair, one knows this is a New Orleans recording. Smith and his musical aggregation stand out on Hoagy Carmichael's "New Orleans" and Nat Adderley's "Work Song." There is a clever rendition of Buck Owens' country classic "Crying Time," that features a lachrymose Kermit Ruffins on trumpet and vocals.
It is the tune "Spanish Rice and Beans" in which the spices come together; the Caribbean lilt from Marsalis and Summers, fresh from gigging in Los Hombres Calientes, breezily supports the sensual tone of Smith's musical tribute to his lady. With every loving note, you know that Henri Smith's first CD will not be his last.
No longer in the background, Henri Smith has stepped to front and center stage at Snug Harbor, New Orleans' premier contemporary jazz club, as well as touring in America and Europe. He still hosts his contemporary jazz radio show on WWOZ in New Orleans.