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London-Based Jazz Musician, Club Owner And Saratogian Weathering COVID-19 Via Live YouTube Series

Saratoga native Giacomo Smith, who played last summer's Saratoga Jazz Festival with his band Kansas Smitty's House Band, is hunkered down in his London apartment, recording a different kind of jazz set.

Pride of Saratoga
Giacomo Smith. (Choi David)

Way back when we first relaunched Saratoga Living magazine, I published a list of Saratogian movers and shakers, who have gone on to become stars in their various areas of influence (see: Anthony Weaver). One of those rising stars was jazz clarinetist/saxophonist, Giacomo Smith, whom I’ve known for more than a decade and am lucky enough to call a friend (his mom and my parents worked together at Skidmore College back in the day). Like something stripped from a Christmas tale, Giacomo, along with his mom, have been known to show up at my parents’ doorstep the night of Christmas Eve, and if all are lucky, he’ll sit down at my parents’ old piano, sight-read Christmas carols and even bang out the occasional jazz number. The guy is about as close to a musical genius as I know.

Giacomo was actually born in Italy but grew up in Saratoga Springs. After graduating from Saratoga Springs High School (he was a few years younger than me), he went off to get his undergrad music degree at Boston University and his master’s at McGill in Montreal. Giacomo now lives in London, England, where, besides being a highly sought-after jazz musician and soloist, he runs a popular jazz club and bar called Kansas Smitty’s in the city’s trendy Broadway Market. He’s also a member of the jazz ensemble Kansas Smitty’s House Band, which has performed everywhere from London’s Royal Albert Hall and Barbican to Manhattan’s Jazz at Lincoln Center (at the request of Wynton Marsalis, no less). He’s even played for the Queen of England! And last summer, he came full circle, popping across the Atlantic and playing the Saratoga Jazz Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), right here in Saratoga.

Because it’s obviously tough being a performing musician anywhere right now, what with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down all manner of normal, public life, Giacomo recently started producing a live music and interview series, “Live at Five,” on his group’s YouTube channel, which he’s been streaming live at 5pm (GMT+1, that is), daily, and then archiving the videos on the page for all to enjoy whilst eating their tea in social isolation (“tea” also means dinner in England, by the way).

In a special episode on April 9, Giacomo interviewed an old friend of mine, Nick Lewis, head of music and promotions at London’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, which has hosted music royalty such as Tom Waits, Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits), Jack Bruce (of Cream), the aforementioned Marsalis, the late Prince, Jeff Beck (of the Yardbirds) and countless others. When I was on my study year abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Nick lived in the dorm room directly below mine (I was a junior, he was a “fresher”). Throughout the year, we could often be heard jamming on something—I’d bought a cheap acoustic guitar in Edinburgh and had just discovered Neil Young, so I can imagine he heard a lot of Harvest and After the Gold Rush that year; and he had a keyboard and used to play quite a bit, too (before I left, I ended up selling Nick my guitar for tuppence on the pound, and because he’s a lefty, he reengineered the guitar so it fit his needs). Either way, we became friends and stayed in touch long after I was back in the states and he, continuing his studies at uni.

And then, by chance, years later, my folks introduced me to Giacomo and told me he was an aspiring jazz musician, who had just moved to London and was looking for contacts across the drink. Nick, who had already started working at Ronnie’s, immediately came to mind. So, I set up an email introduction between the two guys and figured they’d possibly connect, but not much else. I had no idea that the two would end up becoming thick as thieves, and Giacomo and his ensemble would end up playing Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club multiple times. (I take zero credit.)

Take a listen to the latest Live at Five recording above—and round about the 9- or 10-minute mark, you might hear about some guy from Saratoga who works at some magazine there.

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Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.

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