I am now a Heart Dance Recordings artist!


I have some exciting news!
I was signed recently by Heart Dance Records, a label based in the Phoenix, AZ area.
They will be re-releasing my first album “After the Harvest” in October of this year and then will follow up in Spring 2018 with my new album “The King of Cordoba”.

I am very excited to be working with them. They will give my albums international exposure and a radio presence that I have never had before. Plus, the other artists on the label are very cool musicians and I look forward to playing and possibly recording with them in the future.
I will keep you all posted as things progress!

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Interesting Experience with YouTube Comments

Any of you who have watched videos on YouTube (which must be just about everyone by now) have probably read some of the comments posted below the videos. A small minority of those comments are useful or even astute but most are just plain dumb. I usually don’t bother to get into the fray of the comment stream but one time I did and it has had some interesting consequences.

Jason Pettit and I were preparing a version of Chick Corea’s tune “Spain” for an upcoming set of concerts, so I was watching a video of John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola and Paco de Lucia performing the song to see if I could adapt any of their arrangement ideas for our trumpet/guitar duo version. Continue reading

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Website Redesign… at last!

I redesigned my website for the first time in several years. Not only was the look getting a little dated but the content need to be updated to reflect several new musical projects as well as my new teaching studio in Westchester, IL. I had done work on several other people’s web sites and I was starting to feel a little like the proverbial cobbler whose kids have no shoes. So, it was about time for an overhaul. Please browse around the new site and let me know what you think and I’d definitely appreciate any feedback on now I can make the site as good and useful as possible.

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New projects and upcoming gigs

It has been a long time since I’ve posted; I hope this one finds you doing well. Now that I am settled here in Guanajuato I have been able to get some new projects going in both music and art. First, I’ll list the upcoming shows I have in November and then below you can read more about each of the new projects. I hope that I’ll be able to see you at one of these shows:

  • Saturday, November 10th 8:00 pm – Opening of the art exhibit of my prints and drawings at Galeria 6 in Mineral de Pozos, GTO Mexico
  • Sunday, November 11th 7:00 – 9:00 pm – The reunited Pong Unit at the Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway, Chicago IL) in the Uptown Poetry Slam. Carter Luke piano, Steve Hashimoto bass, Heath Chappell drums.
  • Thursday, November 15th, 7:00 – 10:00 pm – Midnight Blue duo with Steve Hashimoto at Adelles (535 W. Liberty Dr. Wheaton, Illinois 60187)
  • Friday, November 16th, 8:00 – 11:00 pm – Midnight Blue trio at Flight 112 (112 Park Ave., Elmhurst, IL)

The New Projects:

Dos Elementos – A new classical chamber duo with trumpeter Jason Pettit. Jason is a wonderful musician and has a lot of experience in both the classical and jazz worlds. We are taking advantage of the fact that we both improvise and we’ve assembled a touring program for 2013 titled “Sueños de España” that involves music from both the classical and jazz realms. The centerpiece of our new program is an arrangement of Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Arranjuez” that is modeled partly on Rodrigo’s original for guitar and orchestra and partly on the Miles Davis/Gil Evans version for trumpet and jazz orchestra from their album “Sketches of Spain”. We will be announcing upcoming concerts soon.

Duo Valken – A duet with Early Music specialist Armando López Valdivia. Armando is a multi-instrumentalist and has a collection of over 250 replica instruments from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In Duo Valken Armando plays several instrument form his collection such as viola de gamba, alto viol, hurdy hurdy, recorder and percussion. I play the classical guitar, dulcimer and vihuela. We have a new album called “Camino a Sildor” (The Road to Sildor) coming out in December that was funded by the University of Guanajuato We will begin touring to promote the album in 2013.

Solo shows – Of course, I’m still performing and composing music to be played in solo shows. I am working with a combination of solo guitar, a looping device and sample based works.

I have two new jazz related groups in the Chicago area:
Midnight Blue –  This group plays a blend of jazz, blues and Latin music. The name of the group was inspired by the title of Kenny Burrell’s 1964 album “Midnight Blue”. The style of the group is a blend of the sound of the Blue Note record label in the early 1960s with the sounds of Memphis, New Orleans and Latin America. It is a trio with Steve Hashimoto on bass and Heath Chappell on drums. We have two shows in November in Chicago.

One Big Soul –  A project that I co-lead with bassist Steve Arens that performs improvised music inspired by Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and Ornette Coleman. It is a four piece group with Steve Arens on bass, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Tim Daisy on drums and me on guitar. We have recorded a CD called “Shining Cities” that will be out sometime early next year.

I was asked to participate in an exhibit of drawings and prints in the gallery “Galeria 6” in the nearby town of Mineral de Pozos. Mineral de Pozos was a literal ghost town of mining ruins until artists began to move in during the late 1980s. It is now a budding artist community with several galleries in town. The exhibit starts November 10th and will have ten of my pieces in it.

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New Recordings from Mexico (and the USA)

In March I recorded with Armando López Valdivia here in Guanajuato. We tracked nearly two hours of music and it turned out beautifully. Armando played violas de gamba, flute, guitar, zamfona (it’s like a hurdy-gurdy) and hand drum while I played guitar, dulcimer and vihuela (a Spanish 16th century antecedent of the guitar). I am now in the process of
mixing and editing the results and I’ll post some of it as soon as it’s ready.

I also did some playing and recording in Mexico City with my friend drummer/percussionist Javier Sosa. He played drum set and various percussion instruments and I played guitar and dulcimer. I’ll be adding some bass here at home and then mixing the results. So far it sounds great – I hope I don’t mess it up with the bass parts! Once again, I’ll post the results when they’re ready.

After returning home I did another session with jazz and R&B vocalist Jazmin Skye. We have been playing duets of voice and guitar and we recorded four tunes to function as a demo. As you might guess, my hands have been full with mixing and editing!

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Festival Cervantino Shows

The Frestival Cervantino is the largest music festival in Latin America. It lasts three weeks and brings in artists from all over the world. The town of Guanajuato is overrun by people of every kind – from elderly classical music fans to itinerant post-hippies looking for the next party. The upside for us that live here is that we get to see some fantastic music for a reasonable cost right here at home.

I was invited by Armando Lopez Valdivia to perform as a special guest
with his early music group “Los Tiempos Pasados” in the Cervantino
festival here in Guanajuato. We did two shows, one in the Templo Valenciana, an old gorgeous cathedral here in town and another in a beautiful theatre in the downtown of the nearby city of Leon. Both events turned out wonderfully and I made some
new musical friends as well. Below are two photos, the first is from
the show in Leon and the second is from the Valenciana cathedral.



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CD Release shows in Chicago and Misourri

I played a Chicago area CD release show at the Two Way Street, in
Downers Grove on the 6th of August  and it was really great.
The audience at the Two Way Street was very attentive  and  the room is set up in
such a way that you really feel a connection to the listeners. I hope everyone had as good a time as I did!

I’ll also played a CD release/benefit show in Ozark, Missouri on Sunday, August 22nd at the Ozark Presbyterian Church in Ozark, Missouri.
The proceeds from the admission charge went to the benefit the fair trade movement which promotes fair business practices  in dealing with the coffee growers of Central America. The show had a nice turnout

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New CD – La Esperanza Sigue


On August 6th my new CD titled “La Esperanza Sigue” was released.

All of the pieces are solo guitar or solo dulcimer (13 guitar pieces and 2 dulcimer). The centerpiece of the disc is the suite “La Esperanza Sigue” which was inspired by the time I spent in Nicaragua working as a volunteer with young children. The organization I worked with was called La Esperanza Granada and I composed a suite based on the idea of
hope for the children of the world and titled it “La Esperanza Sigue” which translates from the Spanish as “The Hope Continues”. I’m really pleased with how it turned out and I hope that it inspires something of hope in you.

Title Listen Purchase Track
The Gathering Storm
What Keeps Me Going
One Day in a Kansas Wheat Field
Esperanza Sigue Suite
Que haya aprendizaje Buy
Que haya amor Buy
Que haya alegría Buy
Bread on Both Shores
La Casita en la Orilla
Mountain Home
Caravana Espiral
G Falling
Carta a un Angel
Spirit, Sword and Shield
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Recordings, recordings, recordings (and a new toy)

Before I get to the new recordings, I have an upcoming show to plug. I’ll be at Adelle’s (1060 College Ave. in Wheaton) on Thursday, April 30th. I’ll be playing in a duo format with bassist Patrick Williams and we play from 7:00 to 10:00 pm. We’ll play a lot of my original material with some jazz standards blended in to fit with the restaurant’s “jazz night” theme. The restaurant has very good food – I know because it’s one of the rare places that feeds the musicians – so come and eat and listen. There is also a bar area right in front of the musicians so if you just want to come and just have a drink you’ll have a perfect seat for the music.

I’ve been recording an awful lot lately. I started with three sessions in Mexico, the most extensive being with Armando López Valdivia, the early music specialist from Guanajuato that I play with frequently. On the trip to Mexico I brought my portable recording rig which consists of a digidesign Mbox, a laptop and a pair of mics.
Armando playing the bass viola de gamba

Armando and I recorded two hours of music which I edited and mixed when I arrived home. It really turned out beautifully and I suspect we may press the results into a CD. Armando played viola de gamba, treble viol, bass viol, recorder, zamfona, bodhran and guitar and I played guitar, dulcimer and vihuela. Here is one of the pieces to hopefully pique your interest: http://www.michaelkentsmith.com/playlist/jm/1A.m3u

In Mexico City I recorded with drummer/percussionist Javier Sosa. Javier played a plethora of drums and percussion instruments and I played guitar, dulcimer and bass. We recorded everything but the bass at Javier’s house and I brought the tracks home to overdub bass and then mix it all. The results are clearly what you would have to call world music and have a lot of influence from Africa. I’m sure that is because Javier and I played together on the Africa tour and heard a lot of great African music that impacted us both. Javier was already quite well versed in African music before the tour where I knew relatively little. What we saw and heard deepened his knowledege and inspired me to learn more. Here’s a sample track that is an afrolatin-hillbilly mix: http://www.michaelkentsmith.com/playlist/jm/1.m3u

While I was in Mexico City I also recorded some solos by Eduardo Garavito, an excellent African percussionist who also was on the Africa tour. I recorded him solo and I will edit his tracks to become accompaniments for a series of guitar/percussion duets that I will compose. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to write the guitar parts yet since I’ve been so busy with all these other recording projects. By the next Newsletter, I’ll have the guitar music composed. I also went into the studio with Eduardo and three other musicians to record a track for his upcoming CD. After sorting out some technical difficulties the session went well and I look forward to hearing the end result.

Immediately after returning to Chicago I did a session with R&B/Jazz vocalist Jazmín Sky. She recently moved to Chicago from the Bay area and we have started playing as a vocal/acoustic guitar duo. We wanted to make a demo to get some gigs so we recorded four songs and I’ve included our version of “God Bless the Child” here so you can get a taste: http://www.michaelkentsmith.com/playlist/jm/child.m3u

Now to the new toy. I asked Mexican guitar builder Salvador Castillo from Paracho, Michoacan to make me a custom classical guitar. I had gotten to know him on my previous visits to Paracho and really liked his approach to building guitars. He built me a beautiful instrument of Brazilian Rosewood with a European Spruce top.
I played it on the recordings with Armando a mere two days after buying it but I had very little time to play it besides that. I was looking forward to getting it home and really exploring its possibilities. However, when I arrived at O’hare airport at the end of the trip there was no guitar at baggage claim. They had made me check the instrument instead of letting me carry it on board, which they sometimes do. When I finally found a representative to help me (this was at 2:30 am) she asked me for my claim ticket which I realized I had left it on the plane. She called the crew on the plane and they told her that they had already cleaned the plane and thrown everything away. I was told that without the ticket I would have no claim against them if the instrument was lost. I thought that it was gone for sure. She gave me a phone number to call the next day and I took a cab home in a rather dejected state. I called the next day and, lo and behold, they had found the guitar! They offered to bring it to my house but I said that I’d be right there to pick it up. When I arrived at the airport they handed me the instrument and I opened the case (it was in a hardshell case with a padded case around that) to check it out. At first it looked O.K. but then I saw that the heel block had cracked all the way through. They must have dropped it from a substantial height to make it break like that. I was given a number to call to initiate a claim and I’m still fighting with the airline to see what they will do about it. I’ll keep the airline anonymous for now but if they don’t come through, believe me, I’ll make sure everyone knows which airline it was! The next day I brought the guitar to luthier R.E. Brune in Evanston and he did a fantastic job of repairing the damage and I now have the guitar back in my posession and I’m enjoying it immensely.

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Gigs plus Mexico Trip

I just landed a last minute gig. This Friday the 27th I’ll be playing solo at The River’s Edge Café in Aurora (http://theriversedgecafe.com/) . It’s located at 18 W. Downer Place, Aurora IL 60506. I play a set 7:30 pm and singer Harry Brown will do a set following mine. It’s late notice, but if you can make it, great!

Also on the horizon: the Pong Unit will be making an appearance at the Uptown Poetry Slam at the Green Mill (http://www.greenmilljazz.com) on Sunday, April 5th at 7:00 pm. with Carter Luke on piano, Steve Hashimoto on bass, Heath Chappell on drums and me on guitar. It’s always a good time and the band is really getting to sound good!

I’m leaving this weekend for Mexico to pick up a new custom classical guitar built for me by Salvador Castillo. He is one of the excellent young guitar builders in the town of Paracho where I visited last year. I have played his guitars and liked them all very much. Over two thirds of the town’s population earn they livelihood from the guitar building trade and over the last two decades a tradition of building very fine professional instruments has been developing. I have seen photos of the new guitar but I can’t wait to get my fingers on it!

After Paracho I will be heading to Guanajuato to record with Armando López Valdivia. Armando has a collection of over 200 instruments. Most of them are replicas of instruments from the Middle Ages and Renaissance but several are from Africa and Asia as well. The outcome of the sessions may make for a CD or it may just be a tool for getting concerts but either way I’m sure it will be great fun to play and record.

On the Mexico trip I’ll also be visiting my friends in Mexico City and doing some recording for a project of percussionist Eduardo Garavito as well as possibly doing some recording with drummer Javier Sosa as well.

After I return I will post some audio, photos and hopefully video of the new guitar and the recording sessions. I am selling a 1973 Fender Stratocaster with natural finish, ash body and maple fretboard. I’m asking $2200 for it. If you’re interested, contact me and I can send photos and give you more information on it.

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