During a rare break between classes at Berklee College of Music and band practice, Harry Jay Smith picks up the phone. Smith is amiable, talking at length about music, schoolwork and the intersection of the two. He has the insight of a seasoned professional; if he hadn’t mentioned he was a freshman at Berklee, it’d be easy to forget he’s only 19.
A 2015 graduate of Yorktown High School in Arlington, Smith was a star baseball player on the school’s varsity team (his coach called him Mr. Reliable.) He has been playing guitar since seventh grade, but it wasn’t until his junior year at Yorktown that he took jazz lessons, an influence apparent in the band’s current sound, which led guitarist Aidan Brody, 19 of Fairfax, to call the band’s sound “a fun mix of funk, R&B, jazz and rock.”
When Smith first got to Berklee in the fall of 2015, he had recorded a few songs by himself, but he needed a backing band for live performances. He met twin 19-year-old trumpet players Kyrell and Khalil Long, who also hail from the NoVA area.
“We met Harry in the beginning of a semester, and he said he might be looking for horn players,” Kyrell Long says. “We were all for it. We got together and made some magic.”
Next were keyboard player Ethan Cohen and percussionist Scott Sawicki, two more area natives. Before long Brody, whom the Longs had known in high school through a mutual friend, joined the band along with bassist Graham Huff of Atlanta and drummer Austin Corona of Santa Cruz, California.
The octet began playing their unique blend of jazz and funk together, re-recording demos of Smith’s solo work and touring relentlessly around NoVA and Boston. Their EP, Truth, was released April 3. As of press time, the band’s debut LP is in the works with Green Line Records, a label based out of Northeastern University in Boston.
Understandably, it’s not easy to strike a balance between music classes and music performances, Smith says.
“My primary project is this band and working with my guys and writing new songs and recording, but second on the priority list is my schoolwork,” he says. “If I have to forfeit going out and having a social life on certain weekends because I have too much work to do, that’s the decision I have to make.”
Smith, who hopes to major in contemporary writing and production, says he’d love to continue the band after college. But again, he’s wise beyond his years and remains realistic. As long as he’s somehow involved in music, he’ll be happy. He’s not in it for the fame, the money or the prestige.
At the end of the day, he’s still a 19-year-old college student who just wants to play music with his friends.
You can see Smith and his band, the Bling, perform at Jammin Java July 12.
First album you ever bought: John Legend, Get Lifted
Song you sing in the shower: Frank Ocean, “Sweet Life”
What you wanted to be as a kid: An astronaut or a professional baseball player
Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Live in the colors. Don’t see everything in black and white.
Personal motto: Don’t be an idiot.
If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be? Mac DeMarco. He truly has the chillest life.
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