Drummer Steve SmithThere have been some major changes lately in Steve Smith’s two touring bands. “Over the past eight years Buddy’s Buddies has developed a unique ‘small big band’ sound and direction,” Steve explains. “We’ve moved away from exclusively playing music associated with Buddy Rich to music that is dedicated to the legacy of many great jazz drummers. We’ve also been playing original music that is allowing the band to evolve with its own voice. Pianist Mark Soskin is a prolific writer and arranger and has been adding exciting original compositions and arrangements to the book.”

In September of 2005, Steve Marcus, who had spent twelve years with Buddy Rich and was the tenor player in Buddy’s Buddies, sadly and unexpectedly died. With saxophonist Walt Weiskopf joining the band in his place, Smith feels they’ve now got another strong composer and arranger who is already adding great charts to their repertoire. According to Steve, “We could see that we had outgrown our original concept and that a new band was born. With that in mind, we agreed on Steve Smith’s Jazz Legacy as a fitting name for the group.” Alongside Steve, Mark, and Walt are Andy Fusco on alto and Baron Browne on bass.

There are also changes in the Vital Information lineup. After eighteen years as an integral member of the band, Frank Gambale has left to spend more time developing his solo career. Stepping into the band is New York–based guitarist Vinny Valentino. Valentino had toured with them in 2004, when Gambale was called away on an urgent family matter just two weeks before the start of a European tour. “Valentino was the logical choice to step in on guitar and bring new energy and ideas to the band,” Steve says. “He’s a world-class improviser and composer, swings hard, has a beautiful sound, and is super funky. Tom Coster, Baron Browne, Vinny, and I are already working on new music for an upcoming Vital Information recording.”

On a personal note, last New Year’s Eve, Steve and longtime girlfriend Diane married after being together for twelve years. And they’ve moved to Manhattan. “We love the energy, music, culture, and food,” Steve says. “Change is definitely ‘in the wind’ for me, and it feels good.”

During September and October, Smith will be touring the East and West Coasts with Steve Smith’s Jazz Legacy, including a stop at the 2006 Modern Drummer Festival. “I’m really looking forward to that one.”

Robyn Flans