Howie Smith is the boldest saxophonist in Cleveland -- the dependable Ernie Krivda, the expressive technicians of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, and New York émigrés Joe Lovano and Josh Smith included. The reason why this off-stream musician occupies so singular a position is that he's coordinator of jazz studies at Cleveland State, giving him both time and a laboratory (CSU's Drinko Hall) to work through his creativity. Smith's "Concert in Progress," an annual winter rite in Cleveland for 22 years, will take place at Drinko this Sunday. Smith doesn't play out very often, he records less (his sole release is the mysterious, experimental Second Door on the Left, a 1995 Sea Breeze CD), and he teaches most: His CSU courses cover jazz ensemble, jazz improvisation, composition, appreciation, and the music business.
At this year's show, Smith will perform with percussionist Gustavo Aguilar, pianist Rock Wehrmann, and saxophonist James Romeo. Smith, who has played everything from rock to classical to electronica, will play two solos, perform with each of his guests as a duo, and make music with all the other three. And he'll press the room itself into instrumental duty, too. The name of this year's edition is "Listening Noise," which stems from a discussion Smith once had with his wife.
"I was being nonresponsive in a conversation, and the comment was made, 'At least provide some listening noises,'" he says circumspectly.
Circumspection won't figure at Drinko, however. When Smith performs, he brings it all: brain, fingers, heart, sweat. "It has to do with adrenaline," says Smith. "The way you approach a performance is different from the way you approach a recording session. In a performance, there are no second takes."