Charles Ray Smith is a performer. He always has been. His love for music started at an early age. Smith is one of those relatively rare individuals who is both an excellent performer and an excellent teacher. Currently, he teaches at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah as the Director of Jazz Studies and Professor of Saxophone. His jazz big band, Synthesis, has received national and international recognition.
When he was just three-years-old, Smith battled with polio. The disease left a lasting mark on his life – to this day, Smith walks with two leg braces and a cane. The physical effects from polio made it impossible for Smith to play sports, so he began to play music.
Smith has a gift for music and an ability to play a variety of instruments. He was featured in BYU Magazine in Fall of 2007. in that article he discusses some of the instruments he plays:
Start with the A, B-flat, and E-flat clarinets—“though I don’t play the E-flat much,” Smith says—bass clarinet, and contrabass. Add the four saxophones. And the four flutes and all the recorders as well as ethnic flutes, such as pennywhistles, Chinese flutes, Japanese flutes, and the South American quena. Then jump across the orchestra to the double reeds, including oboe, English horn, bassoon, and contrabassoon. Smith also learned to play some very old instruments at Indiana—such as the Renaissance-period krummhorn and shawm. And he specializes in some of the newest, including the Yamaha WX7, an electronic wind instrument connected to a synthesizer. The complete tally (though he has never bothered to count) is probably in the 30s. (Waite)
Since then, Smith has gone leaps and bounds above the expectations for music professors. Headed by Smith, Synthesis has won many jazz festival competitions such as the Pacific Coast Collegiate Jazz Festival, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, and those sponsored by the International Association for Jazz Education; performing in some of the great international jazz festivals such as The Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, and the Antibes Jazz Festival in the French Riviera, The Riga Jazz Festival in Latvia, The Pori Jazz Festival in Finland, The Kongsberg Jazz Festival in Norway, and The Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy, the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in Scotland, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in Denmark, the Wigan and Birmingham Jazz Festivals in England, the San Sebastian Jazz Festival in Spain, the Loule Jazz Festival in Portugal, to name a few; and has toured Japan and China, not to mention blazing new trails into Siberia in 1998. Ray has also performed at the World Saxophone Congress in Bangkok, Thailand and has done a residency at the University of Manila in the Philippines.
As a student of Eugene Rousseau, Smith has been an avid champion of the classical saxophone, but he is equally at home in either classical or jazz-related styles and is adept at all five of the woodwind instruments: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone. He also performs and records frequently on the Yamaha WX7 Midi Electronic Wind Instrument and the AKAI E.W.I. and often plays recorders, pennywhistles, and other ethnic flutes in the recording studio. He has nearly 200 CD credits and has recorded on many film scores and television themes and jingles such as The Sandlot, Mi Familia, The Swan Princess, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Ricky Lake Show, Buick, Chevy, etc., and many Canadian and German television and radio themes. Dr. Smith performs periodically with the Utah Symphony and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and is a regular with the Utah Saxophone Quartet and Q’d Up, a jazz quintet, as well as the saxophone quartet, FOUR.
Smith also does clinics and performances at colleges and high schools and adjudicates at jazz festivals. In the summers, he teaches at various jazz workshops including the Birch Creek Jazz Camp in Wisconsin where he received the Woody Herman Award for musical excellence and professionalism. As a professor he was invited to speak at one of BYU's campus devotionals in 2009. In 1998 he was given the Voice of Jazz Award for the State of Utah; and in 2008, he was recognized by the International Association for Jazz Education as the first Utah Jazz Master, a lifetime achievement award “for profound contributions and virtuoso performance in the field of jazz in Utah.” He has also served on both the Utah Arts Council and the Orem Arts Council in addition to his many capacities.
Ray is a wonderful teacher who helps students expand their musical talents. One such student is Chris Bacon, who has composed musical scores for several major motion pictures.
Under Smith's direction Synthesis released their new Flying High album in 2012. The album features compositions by Kevin Jenson and Stephen Anderson. It also features the vocal and violin timbre of Suzy Lind and Curtis Woodbury. The following May, as part of their preparation for a tour in Brazil, the group was part of an "Evening of Jazz" concert at the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem. In 2013 Downbeat Magazine awarded Synthesis jazz ensemble as the undergraduate college winner of the magazine's 36th Annual Student Music Awards.
- BYU CFAC - Downbeat Magazine Lists Synthesis Among the Best Student Musicians of 2013 (30 May 2013)
- BYU Speeches - Depending on the Lord: Gospel Insights from a Musician (23 June 2009)
- BYU Magazine: A Ray of Jazz (Fall 2007)
- MormonTimes: Musician of all Trades
- YNews - Steve Lindeman CD release concert June 15 to include Sunthesis, KUER's Steve William (6 June 2013)
- the Daily Herald - Trio of local jazz bands swing into action at free SCERA concert (25 April 2013)
- The Deseret News - BYU Synthesis' 'Flying High' soars with jazz tunes (7 April 2012)
- The Daily Herald - Arts should be more prominent in Orem, arts council says (8 Oct 2011)
- The Daily Herald - Old music, young musicians (21 Oct 2010)
- The Daily Universe - BYU’s Jazz band tours Europe (15 July 2010)
- Mormon Times - BYU performers looking at busy summer (16 May 2010)
- Mormon Times - Ray Smith: Using jazz to build the kingdom (26 March 2010)
- Waite, Nathan N. “A Ray of Jazz.” BYU Magazine. Fall 2007. Pg. 39.
- "Ray Smith: The Jazz Man." BYU Today Magazine. November 1988.