Reaching 4 Excellence: Jazz artist preparing to take the baton from the greats

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The music industry often seems obsessed with finding blazing new talent or the hottest new sounds.  This week’s FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever is certainly a rare talent but he produces the enthralling sounds of Kansas City’s signature music that was played by great performers that he idolizes.  Keep your ears and your eyes on Houston Smith.

He’s a throwback, the kind of stellar musician and dazzling performer people might have flocked to hear and watch in the golden age of jazz in Kansas City.  Eighteen-year-old Houston Smith goes to work impeccably dressed, the way Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and the great Charlie “Bird” Parker would have gone on stage 60 or 70 years ago.

“I do have a great appreciation for the music and I appreciate where it came from,” said Houston, this week’s FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever.

Indeed, those in the know about jazz music in Kansas City are predicting that Houston Smith could well be among the next generation of jazz giants.

“I think he’s going to be a person to watch,” said Chris Burnett.

Burnett is Houston’s uncle and taught him on the sax and is also a top executive at the American Jazz Museum in the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District in Kansas City.

“I think Kansas City produces artists who go on to great things on the national and international stage and honestly, without bias, he’s that type of talent,” said Burnett.

This Eagle Scout and recent graduate of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City has been playing professionally for years already; in the spotlight at places like Pinstripes in Overland Park, Kansas.  His musical journey began around the time he started grade school, at church, where his mother was the pianist and choir director.

“It’s helped me grow as a musician, it’s helped me grow spiritually and it’s helped me be an all-around better person,” said Houston of his experience in church.

First he played percussion and a few years later his father introduced him to the saxophone and the smooth sounds of jazz and R&B.

“Playing the saxophone, that’s one of the most natural things for me,” said Houston.  “And so I feel very free, very at home.”

Houston treasures the history and heritage of jazz and the American Jazz Museum has relied on him heavily as an ambassador and speaker, especially to help educate and build younger audiences.

“He respects that being a part of that continuum and that tradition and that lineage,” said Burnett.

Houston’s future as a successful musician and performer seems rock solid at this point but his aspirations in the music industry go beyond the stage and the recording studio.  He intends to be a man in charge.

“I would like to be one of those decision makers,” said Houston.

Houston will study this fall at one of America’s premiere music colleges, Berklee in Boston, where he plans to focus on music and business and later he may go to law school.  He sees himself scouting and developing talent and maybe running a big entertainment company one day.  But at his core he’ll always be that man in the fine suit wailing on a sweet alto sax.

“You’ve still got to work because you still got things to accomplish and things to do, especially if you are going to be handed the baton,” said Houston.

Houston plays every Friday night at Pinstripes in Overland Park until he heads to Berkeel College and often in other places in the Kansas City region.  You can get information on some of his upcoming gigs and see video of some of his performances on the web.

Go to https://www.facebook.com/houstonmsmithmusic to check out his Facebook page and https://www.youtube.com/user/hmsdeliveryman to see and hear some of his performances.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments.  In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.  Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.

Phil Witt, FOX 4 News