American guitarist, saxophonist, and producer Jesse Smith is a musician’s musician. The North Florida native has been playing guitar and saxophone for twenty years. A heavy hitter in the blues and funk realm, Smith studied jazz saxophone at the Florida State School of Music, as well as George Clinton’s School of Funk. His style has been described as pure, raw, and emotional. At age 13 he was chosen by Charlie Hargrett, an original member of Blackfoot, to be mentored and cultivated as a serious musician. Charlie’s lessons proved valuable beyond measure, and were eagerly received by his young protégé. Cutting his teeth with musicians more than twice his age, Smith was taught how to live the music and live through the music. Wearing his heart out on his guitar strings allowed Smith the rare ability to simply but masterfully lean back and dive in to the music. While attending Florida State University, Smith was a founding member of the university’s only student run record label, Renegade State Records. As acting manager of the label, Smith was responsible for over 1,000 hours of studio sessions, artist relations, producing, and arranging for over twenty-five different artists. Renegade State Records remains strong; the tradition of yearly releases is honored by records like Sessions @211. In late 2009, Ric “Rickenstein” Holly, a former Motown recording artist and associate of Sly and the Family Stone, approached Smith for a position with his record label. Smith became the musical director for I.C. Music Productions in 2010, writing, recording, arranging, and organizing bands for the label’s twelve artists. The Jesse Smith Project was originally created to satisfy the label’s need for a consistent, reliable, and gifted session band. In 2010, the Jesse Smith Project began their tenure as the elite session band for the I.C. Music Productions label. The group would soon be used for several Motown recording artists including George Clinton & P-Funk. After one particularly exhaustive session, Clinton himself commented, “they just graduated from Dr. Funkenstein’s School of Funk.” The JSP happily explores many avenues of influence including jazz, blues, funk, gospel, and World music. The term “project” in this case is not used to describe a group under construction, but rather the experimental mindset the band uses to approach their music. The JSP has traveled throughout the southeast to critical acclaim. Mulenation.org states “[with the Jesse Smith Project] – it’s not a note thing, it’s a SOUL thing.” Performing at venues such as the Suwannee River Music Park, Farm to Family Full Moon Music Festival, Bo Diddley Plaza, and Vinyl Music Hall, the JSP sound is growing in a grassroots-style movement amongst listeners who seek raw emotion paired with seriously nasty funk. Since his move to New Orleans in 2012, Smith has become an in-demand session musician as well as dynamic live performer. You can find him, as well as JSP members Walter Lundy, Ron Williams, Joe Goldberg, and Ricio Fruge, throughout the city across various roles in the music scene. This group of Florida musicians may be far from where they started, but they are always at home on stage, in front of a crowd, or in the studio.
- Meg Saligman
- Amy LaVere