“I was kind of banging on pots and pans as a kid when my parents saw I was interested in it, so I started taking lessons with Slam Stewart at about 4,” said Smith. “I did that for a while and they took me to the Jazz Collective jam. When I went to my first jam session, Bruce Middle let me sit in when I was 7 or 8 years old.”
Smith graduated from high school in 2020 and attended the New England Conservatory of Music. He plans to continue his music education at another school this fall. Earnhart attends the New England Conservatory, but as a performance major on the euphonium.
“Even though I’m at NEC for a classical performance degree, jazz, for me, the essence of jazz is the ultimate outlet for creating something that’s truly authentic through improvisation, changing things around with the melody and the harmony,” said Earnhart. “Playing keyboard with the group has given me exactly that opportunity.”
At 29, Rodriguez is the oldest member of the band. He is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington with a bachelor’s degree in music and credits his father for introducing him to the Latin rhythms he would later incorporate in his playing.
“My dad was a very musical person, although he didn’t play any instruments,” said Rodriguez. “I grew up listening to a lot of Latin rock such as Santana. So having that influence and hearing all these amazing groups, I knew I wanted to do music. I started off in a classical setting first, just because I wanted to play the bass and the cello. In my junior year of high school the bass repertoire wasn’t exactly challenging, so I saw a challenge in jazz and I just fell in love as soon as I started playing. That being said, I was playing with the UMW Philharmonic and I loved that repertoire, but now I feel more instinctual playing jazz.”