Like a lot of people, 18-year-old Trevor Smith took piano lessons as a child.
Unlike most people, Trevor didn’t drop the instrument like a sack of angry tarantulas the first time he laid hands on an Xbox game controller. Instead, he got good.
“I started piano lessons when I was 5 years old,” says Trevor, who grew up in Genesee and just graduated with Evergreen High School’s Class of 2014. “I had an excellent piano teacher when I was very young, and apparently I progressed very fast. Once I got good enough to start improving on my own, it kind of came together.”
Early on, Trevor planted his feet on classical soil, mastering the music of Chopin and Schubert, Bach and Beethoven.
“For a long time I only played solo classical music. It wasn’t until middle school that I started to branch out.” The branch he climbed onto was Jazz, and he quickly found a solid perch in the Evergreen Middle School Jazz Band.
“It’s a really fun, fast style of music with a lot of opportunities to show off,” says Trevor, with refreshing candor. “And, honestly, it’s fun to play with an ensemble.”
As a freshman in high school his branch expanded into a small forest. He’d learned to play drums, taught himself to play guitar, and there was virtually no instrumental convocation anywhere at EHS that did not include Trevor Smith.
“I was incredibly active. I played bass and snare drum in the marching band, keyboard and synthesizer in the theater pit orchestra, and percussion in the concert band.” And, of course, he played piano with the EHS Jazz Band, which is how he came to the attention of Centennial State jazz luminary Dr. Ed Cannava. A respected Jazz musician and university music instructor, Cannava also leads the Denver Jazz Club Youth All-Stars, an elite ensemble composed of top high school talent drawn from across the Front Range.
“Two years ago their piano player graduated and they were looking for a new one,” Trevor says. “Their drummer was a friend of mine, and he referred me. I auditioned, they accepted me, and I’ve been playing with them ever since.”
“Playing” might be too feeble a word for what Trevor’s been doing with them. Besides regular practice sessions at the Flesher-Hinton warehouse on Tennyson Street in Denver, the DJC Youth All-Stars play about two dates a week when the snow’s falling, and up to four a week when it’s not. It’s a professional schedule, but not without some pretty sweet rewards.
“We play at Jazz festivals all over the place. We played the Sacramento Music Festival in May, and the Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland. We also got to play in Umbria, which was a great experience.”
The All-Stars didn’t need to check their instruments at the gate to strut their syncopated stuff at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in July, playing four sets in two days and swapping war stories with many of their musical mentors. And while Armstong, Ellington and Dixieland are bread, butter and sausage for the band, Trevor is always ready to sprout another branch.
“I got to meet a lot of excellent Ragtime players from California and New Orleans, and I learned a lot about Ragtime from Jeff Barnhart. It takes some practice, but I love it.”
While first and foremost an instrumentalist, Trevor learned to unleash his inner crooner during his hitch with the Youth All-Stars. A particular favorite of Evergreen audiences was the band’s slightly twisted take on the time-tested barroom ballad “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey?”
“Ours is ‘Don’t You Come Home Bill Bailey!’” Trevor grins. “It’s a famous Ella Fitzgerald song about a guy who walks out on a woman. In the original recording there’s no response to the vocals. In ours, the drummer sings Ella’s part and I sing responses in the role of Bill Bailey. Because I’m the one doing all the funny responses,” he adds, with a natural humility he wears as comfortably as a satin vest and straw boater, “it gets me more attention than I deserve.”
Alas, all good things must come to an end. Only high school students are eligible to tour with the All-Stars, and Trevor’s played his last encore with them. Happily, he went out on a high note. At the end of July, the All Stars took Manhattan by storm.
“To warm up, we did street performances in Central Park, Washington Square and on the deck of the Intrepid aircraft carrier. Then we played two nights at the Iguana Mexican Grill with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, both separately and with the bands combined. We also did a 4-hour set at The Garage in Greenwich Village. It was amazing.”
Almost as amazing as trying to imagine the band’s upright bass player hauling his 6-foot fiddle around Manhattan on the subway. For that matter, astute readers may be wondering how Trevor managed to drag a piano onto the flight deck of the USS Intrepid. The short answer is – he didn’t.
“I used an accordion,” he smiles. “Dr. Cannava pretty much made me learn the accordion as soon as I started. It’s often the only way you can play in outdoor venues.”
If Trevor won’t be playing with the All-Stars anymore, he’ll have a shelf full of awards and a heart full of memories to remember them by when he starts college at the end of August. He’ll be attending the University of Colorado in Boulder, and, for the record, he won’t be studying music.
“I’m good at math, and I thought computers would be fun. I’m taking computer programming.”
But he’s also good at music, and he already knows it’s fun. Why not just run with it? “I don’t want to make music a job,” he says, simply. “I want to keep it fun.”