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Steve Smith's Jazz Legacy

Steve Smith's Jazz Legacy plays music that is dedicated to honoring the legacy of many of the great jazz drummers such as Art Blakey, "Philly" Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams. Jazz Legacy also performs original compositions and arrangements written by the individual band members which serves to gives the band a unique direction.

This powerhouse, swinging jazz quintet is made up of five seasoned musicians; Andy Fusco (alto sax), Walt Weiskopf (tenor and soprano saxes), Mark Soskin (piano), Baron Browne (bass) and bandleader Steve Smith (drums).

History of the Band

The story of the group Jazz Legacy starts with a quintet called Buddy's Buddies, the Buddy Rich alumni group that was started by the Buddy Rich estate in late 1990s. The group was based primarily around saxophonists Andy Fusco and Steve Marcus, and performed music associated with the legendary Buddy Rich.

Steve Marcus had spent twelve years touring and recording with Buddy, and was also part of the early jazz-rock scene with Larry Coryell and Herbie Mann. Andy Fusco was the lead alto player of the Buddy Rich Big Band from 1978-1983, and had also toured with legendary performers such as Mel Lewis and Frank Sinatra.

Steve and Andy recruited Steve Smith to play drums with the group after they played together on several occasions with the Buddy Rich Big Band in the '90s. To complete the group, Mark Soskin, a recording artist and longtime sideman for Sonny Rollins, joined on piano, and Baron Browne, a versatile musician who has toured and recorded with artists as diverse as Billy Cobham to Tom Jones (and is also a member of Steve Smith's Vital Information), became the electric bassist.

Over the course of eight years, billed as Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies, the group recorded three albums and toured the world. Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies, a studio album, was recorded in 1999, and two live discs, Very Live at Ronnie Scott's Set One and Set Two, were recorded during their week at the famed London jazz club in 2002.

The sad and unexpected passing of Steve Marcus in September, 2005, hit the band very hard. At that point they, decided to change direction and move away from principally playing music associated with Buddy Rich.

They asked saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, a fantastic musician and a long-time friend of both Steve Marcus and Andy Fusco, to join. In fact, you can see and hear all three saxophonists on the burning DVD Buddy Rich Live at the 1982 Montreal Jazz Festival (Hudson Music).

Walt is a bandleader and recording artist, and has been working recently with Steely Dan. The band came up with its band name Jazz Legacy, which gave them a wide range of options in terms of musical direction.

Steve Smith wanted to play music that is dedicated to the legacy of the great jazz drummers. They had also been playing some original music that was allowing the band to develop its own voice.

Pianist Mark Soskin is a prolific writer and arranger, and has been adding exciting original compositions and arrangements to the book. With Walt Weiskopf joining the band, they have another strong composer and arranger who is adding exceptional charts to the band's repertoire, expanding its direction.

There are so many jazz drummers that Steve has listened to and admired over the years. When he started thinking about new arrangements for Jazz Legacy, some of the tunes that he chose were ones he had been thinking about for a long time.

“Two Bass Hit"¯ is one of these. The main version that he was familiar with is from the 1958 Miles Davis recording Milestones, where it served as a feature for Philly Joe Jones. Mark Soskin's arrangement of the tune is close to the Miles version, though they band added some parts that are inspired by a version that Philly Joe played on his 1960 solo album, Philly Joe's Beat.

“Sister Cheryl"¯ is a beautiful composition written by Tony Williams. Steve first heard it on Wynton Marsalis' 1981 debut album, and later on Foreign Intrigue, the 1985 release by the Tony Williams Quintet.

In paying tribute to Tony, Steve wanted to acknowledge his abilities as both a drummer and composer. “Sister Cheryl"¯ is strong melodically, harmonically and rhythmically.

The electrifying “Insubordination"¯ was written and recorded by Walt Weiskopf for his album Simplicity. When Steve heard this piece, he immediately wanted to add it to the Jazz Legacy book because of its extremely fast tempo and “burn factor."

Shortly after Steve Marcus' passing, Walt wrote “For Steve, which truly captured SteveĆ¢ā‚¬ā„¢s razor-sharp wit and impish personality. Whenever the band plays this song, they are reminded of their love for a dear friend in Steve Marcus.

When Steve heard “The Peacocks"¯ on Tea For Two, a fantastic album that is co-led by Andy Fusco and Walt Weiskopf, their treatment of this Jimmy Rowles gem moved Steve Smith. Walt's arrangement speaks to the very depths of life's pains, and the band's performance keeps the solemn mood throughout. This has become one of Steve Smith's favorite pieces.

The original 1962 recording of “Inception"¯ is the title track of pianist McCoy Tyner's debut as a leader. The drummer on the recording is Elvin Jones.

Along with Art Davis on bass, the trio plays this minor blues with a ferocious pulse. It's truly some of the most exciting jazz Steve ever heard on record. Walt arranged the tune for Jazz Legacy, and playing it is a high point of each night's performance.

As another nod to the incredible Elvin Jones, Walt transcribed the Jimmy Garrison tune “Ascendant."¯ Steve heard this on the 1968 recording The Ultimate Elvin Jones, which featured a trio with Elvin, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Joe Farrell on sax.

This tune is the perfect brush feature, and the melody is so clear and identifiable that Steve was able to play it on his drum kit before the final head comes in.

The tour-de-force drum feature of the night is “A Night In Tunisia,"¯ which is inspired by Art Blakey. Steve has a number of versions of this tune by Art, on both DVD and CD. Those who haven't heard Art play this tune should check out the Blue Note recording The Best Of Art Blakey for an incendiary version. The original album, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers: A Night In Tunisia, has a different and very good version also.

Mark Soskin wrote an arrangement that incorporates many of features of the different Blakey versions, complete with percussion parts for the band members to play, and a bass solo over the form and percussion “hits."

The only tune that can follow “A Night In Tunisia" is “Moanin,"¯ the good-time shuffle by Bobby Timmons. “Moanin"¯ is another standard of Art Blakey's and a great way to end the set.

More About the Band

Pianist Mark Soskin, a prolific writer and arranger, has been adding exciting original compositions and arrangements to the book allowing the band to develop its own voice. Mark is a recording artist, bandleader, and a longtime sideman for many renowned jazz artists including Sonny Rollins, Billy Cobham and Herbie Mann.  

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Walt Weiskopf is another strong composer and arranger who has added great charts to the band's repertoire. Walt is also a bandleader and recording artist. His credits include touring and recording with Toshiko Akiyoshi, the Buddy Rich Big Band, and Steely Dan.

Andy Fusco was the lead alto saxophonist of the Buddy Rich Big Band from 1978-1983. He has toured with a number of legendary performers including Gerry Mulligan, Mel Lewis, and Frank Sinatra.

Andy and Walt have led many of their own solo recordings for the Criss Cross jazz label, including their recent co-led recording Tea For Two.

Bassist Baron Browne, one of most versatile and talented bass players on the scene, has toured and recorded with Gary Burton, Billy Cobham, Jean-Luc Ponty, Steps Ahead, and Tom Jones. Baron is also the bass player in Steve Smith's jazz/fusion group Steve Smith and Vital Information.

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