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Stanley Smith

Inducted: 2024
(1945 - )

Stanley Smith

Stanley Smith’s career has been shaped by his capacity to invent and reinvent himself, in different places and circumstances, as a working musician and artist. He was born in 1945 rural Arkansas. When he was five, his family moved to Indiana, where he grew up. Stanley’s musical interests developed early, encouraged by his family. His home was full of records, especially jazz and blues, which became lifelong influences. His brother played guitar in a school band and gave Stanley his first music lesson, one of the few he ever had. As a boy he taught himself to play the baritone ukulele; when he was twelve his father gave him a clarinet.

Smith joined the army in the early 1960’s, which was a turning point in his life. Self-taught on clarinet and guitar, he started playing in army pick-up bands where he encountered a diversity of musicians, particularly African Americans, who helped widen his jazz and blues horizons.

Till late 1966, Stanley was stationed near Paris, France, where he frequented Parisian jazz clubs, some of which featured world-class talent, and immersed himself in the jazz scenes around those clubs. In this atmosphere, among musicians and jazz fans alike, he visualized the possibility of a life devoted to playing music. When he left France, he was on his way to becoming the musician he would be for the rest of his life. After the army, Stanley’s career took off. For over two decades, he played a diversity of musical styles, from jazz and blues to western-swing and country, first in Indianapolis, then Boulder, CO, and back again to Indianapolis. He developed his talent for musical improvisation on clarinet and guitar, choosing to play to audiences in intimate settings in small clubs and cabarets.

He started singing at performances and in 1971 started writing songs. In the mid ‘70’s he founded and was instrumental in developing an Indianapolis venue called the Hummingbird, which presented local and national acts, including Austin’s Asleep at the Wheel. He opened shows for major artists like Leon Redbone, Richie Havens, Taj Mahal and Bill Monroe. For 15 years Stanley played in the Strugglers, an Indianapolis band known for its renditions of Chicago blues, jazz and western swing, as well as its unique propensity for resurrecting obscure songs from bygone eras.

In 1985 Stanley moved to Austin, encouraged by what he’d heard about Austin music from players encountered in Indianapolis, especially members of Asleep at the Wheel. Changing music scenes and relocating to Austin put Stanley in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the upswing in live jazz in Austin in the 1980’s. For 32 years in Austin, Stanley played near and far, often with two bands, the Jazz Pharaohs and the Asylum Street Spankers. He also worked on “The Newton Boys” movie soundtrack and as a session man for Terry Allen, Terri Hendrix and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others.

Stanley’s tenure with the Jazz Pharaohs, which lasted 27 years, particularly highlights his adaptability as a performer. When the band needed a sideman, he was a sideman, performing alongside players like Martin Banks and Slim Richey. When a bandleader or singer was needed, he fulfilled those roles. When the Pharaohs needed new personnel he worked alongside Pharaohs’ trombonist, Freddie Mendoza, to seek and encourage talented younger players and music students to play with the band.

For 10 years, starting in 1993, Stanley’s lively, inventive, soulful clarinet and soft, expressive vocals added unique dimensions to the offbeat 20’s and 30’s music and original, often humorous songs of the Asylum Street Spankers. He toured Europe several times with the band and played clarinet and sang on several of the band’s recordings. In 2008 he rejoined the band for a two-week stint at an Off Broadway theater in New York City.

In 2002 he released his solo CD, “In the Land of Dreams.” Composed of his original music, the recording was produced by Austin’s Stephen Doster and features top Austin players, including Tony Campise, Chris Searles, Rich Brotherton, J. J. Johnson and Ephraim Owens. “In the Land of Dreams” runs the gamut of musical styles from bossa nova to blues and has been described as evoking “a hazy state of mind and a lazy mood, one of life just casually drifting by on a hot summer day.”

In 2002 he toured Japan to support his CD, and again in 2011 and more extensively in 2014. A song from his CD, “Sweet Butterfly,” was a hit on Japanese radio.

Stanley earned his place in Austin jazz history by playing literally thousands of gigs with local musicians in Austin bands for well over three decades. In the process, he stayed true to his original ambition, conceived years before, to be an active, working professional musician throughout the course of his life.





Phone: (512) 327-JAZZ (5299)

Address: P.O. Box 170141

Austin, TX 78717

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