We were saddened to hear of the passing of the great guitarist Johnny Smith the other day and he will be greatly missed by the worldwide guitar community. Smith was a highly diverse musician and was equally at home playing jazz as he was sight-reading complex scores with the New York Philharmonic.
His unique guitar playing was characterised by intricate close position chord voicings and rapidly ascending melodic lines which drew much praise and admiration from fellow guitarists. His most famous and critically acclaimed album was Moonlight in Vermont (one of Down Beat magazine’s top two jazz records for 1952, also featuring saxophonist Stan Getz).
He also wrote the popular composition “Walk Don’t Run“, which was written for a 1954 recording session as a counter melody to the harmony of the famous jazz standard “Softly, As in the Morning Sunrise”. Chet Atkins also covered this song.
A group of musicians who eventually became The Ventures heard the Chet Atkins version, simplified it for their own sound [and sped it up] and eventually recorded it in 1960. The Ventures’ version went to No. 2 on the Billboard Top 100 for a week in September of that year.
Smith moved from the public eye in the 1960’s to concentrate on teaching and to run a music store, however he remained as one of the most influential masters of ‘Cool Jazz’ inspiring a whole new generation of guitarists with his fluid and intricate playing.