Photo by Michael Forschler
Hal Smith began playing drums in 1963. He heard Ben Pollack, Nick Fatool, Wayne Jones and Fred Higuera in live performance and they are still four of his major influences. Later, Hal heard Minor “Ram” Hall’s recordings with Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band and became interested in New Orleans style drumming. In addition to Minor Hall (and his brother Fred “Tubby” Hall), Hal’s favorite New Orleans drummers are Baby Dodds, Andrew Hilaire, Zutty Singleton, Cie’ Frazier, Paul Barbarin and Ray Bauduc. He has also studied recordings of Sid Catlett, Dave Tough, Jo Jones, Vic Berton, Johnny Wells, Stan King, Harry Dial, Morey Feld and many others.
Hal’s resume’ includes stints with the Dukes of Dixieland, Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band, Butch Thompson Trio, Grand Dominion Jazz Band, Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band, Climax Jazz Band, Yerba Buena Stompers, the Fat Babies, Campus Five, Rhythm Serenaders and more. Besides jazz, Hal has played Western Swing (Billy Mata and the Texas Tradition; Jason Roberts Band; Dave Stuckey’s Hoot Owls); Rockabilly (Memphis Speed Kings, the Hayriders, Gino and the Lone Gunmen, Cash Kings, Big Rig Deluxe) and Blues (James Harman, Jontavious Willis, Junior Watson, Nathan James/Ben Hernandez, Blue Largo, Johnny Rover, Billy Watson).
He has performed on Minnesota Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” Texas Public Radio’s “Riverwalk – Live From The Landing,” numerous television programs and on over 200 recordings.
Hal was one of the founders of America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society’s Adult Traditional Jazz Camp, which began in 1995. He has also been on the faculty of the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp, lecturing on Jazz history, supervising student ensembles, performing with the faculty band and giving private instruction on drums.
For over a decade, Hal produced CDs for the George H. Buck Jr. Jazz Foundation and the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation and wrote liner notes for most of those releases.
Currently Hal lives in Searcy, Arkansas and travels across the U.S. for musical engagements. He works frequently with Tim Laughlin’s New Orleans All-Stars, the Kris Tokarski Trio, Banu Gibson’s New Orleans Hot Jazz Orchestra and Grammy Award winner Floyd Domino’ All-Stars (Austin). At the present time, Hal’s own bands are The New Orleans Night Owls (below), the Mortonia Seven and On The Levee Jazz Band.
During the Pandemic, Hal recorded over 100 “Acapella” videos and remote recording sessions with musicians from the U.S. and Europe.
Hal has appeared as a guest on “Now You Has Jazz, Jazz, Jazz” and “Drummers’ Roundtable” (YouTube) hosted by British jazz drummer John Petters. He can be heard on YouTube with Loren Schoenberg and Nick Rossi as a participant in the “Get Happy” video series and also with host April DeShields on “Echoes of Swing.” Early in 2022, Hal was a guest on the “Arkansas Treasures” radio programs hosted by Marty Scarbrough on KASU from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Hal’s segments on Arkansas jazzmen Alex Hill, Benny Strickler and Volly DeFaut were called the “Natural State of Jazz.”