Despite remarkable exceptions like Clark Terry, who’s 78, and Doc Cheatham, who sounded 40 in his 80s, trumpeters as a rule age faster than other jazzmen: the instrument’s demands on the lungs and lips shorten most players’ careers. Trumpeter Louis Smith is only 68, but he may merit a place alongside Terry and Cheatham–even though he no longer plays with the same bright swagger and intrepid articulation of his highly regarded debut, released 42 years ago on Blue Note. (A footnote: that debut, Here Comes Louis Smith, was one of the albums where Cannonball Adderley evaded a contract restriction by using the pseudonym “Buckshot La Funke,” which Branford Marsalis transmuted in 1994 into the name of his jazz-hip-hop fusion project.) He misses a few more notes than he used to, but then his style never depended on the pinpoint accuracy of a young Dizzy Gillespie or Fats Navarro; his high notes sound a bit more pinched, but then his tone has always been slightly nasal in the upper register. The biggest difference is that where his improvising once echoed the robust sunshine and daredevil tempos of Clifford Brown, it now takes after the reflective, tempered, and even dour work of Kenny Dorham. Smith’s deliciously measured lines still make excellent use of skipping triplets (a trademark of the hard-bop era of his youth), but abstain from flamboyance; almost all of his recently recorded solos display lovely logic and hard-won conviction. And for the record, on his new Once in a While–his tenth album in 21 years for the Steeplechase label–he treats Brown’s playful blues “Sandu” to a solo full of lithe, speedy runs and soulful pronouncements. Smith’s quintet at the Green Mill includes altoist Andrew Speight, who directs the jazz studies program at Michigan State, pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Robert Shy. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. On Saturday at 2 PM Smith plays in a trio with Pickens and Sandstrom at Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.