The following is reprinted with permission of Alan J. Balfour and
Blues Beat: The Sonoma County Blues Society Newsletter, April-May 1996

Sasha Smith: The Youthful Blues
by Alan J. Balfour

Sasha Smith has been attracting a growing legion of fans in Sonoma County and the Bay Area since his amazing solo performance at the 1993 Sonoma County Blues Festival at the tender age of 12. Since that time, Sasha has grown up fast, and the novelty of his youth has played a decreasingly less important part in our perception of him. I recently spent some time with Sasha and his father, Claude Smith, to learn more about him and his music and came away most impressed. Sasha and his music reflect each other, and he exhibits the same maturity in conversation as he does with his music. I believe I heard nary a "ya know," a "like" or a "huh" the entire evening.

As might be expected, Sasha is from a musical and artistic family and has been exposed to a vast array of styles and forms. Sandy Smith his mother, is a school teacher, classical musician, dancer and choreographer and has played viola in local string quartets. Dad is a painter and jazz and blues bassist. His parents are separated, and Sasha believes the pain their separation has caused him comes through in his music.

Sasha's musical training began with the violin when he was 3 or 4. He studied classical violin until he was 8 when he discovered piano and began classical lessons which lasted about five years. At the same time, he was introduced to blues and jazz by his father and fell in love with the freedom offered by their improvisational nature. Sasha credits classical training with teaching him musical theory, keyboard technique and how to listen. Thus, by the time he wanted to play blues, he didn't have to learn how to play piano, but rather, could concentrate on learning the music itself.

Sasha's first, and probably strongest blues influence, is famed Chuck Berry piano man, Johnnie Johnson. For a month or two, when he was 10, Sasha lived on a musical diet consisting strictly of Johnson albums. One night, Sasha accompanied Dad to a rehearsal of Claude's band. Sasha asked to sit in and they let him, thinking "what could it hurt?" Sasha had learned his lessons well, absorbing everything he could from the Johnson records, and blew his father and the band away with his feel for the rhythms of the music and his sophisticated understanding of blues structures and phrasings. Claude had no idea Sasha could play blues that well and suggested that Sasha write to Johnson to thank him for the lessons learned from his records. Much to their surprise, Johnson called one evening to thank Sasha for his letter. That summer, Sasha and Claude were guests of Johnson's at the Sacramento Blues Festival and spent the weekend backstage mingling with some of the brightest stars in the blues galaxy. Since that time, Sasha has continued to correspond and speak with Johnson, recently receiving a postcard from Johnson's Australian tour.

Sasha's first blues performance was at the Johnny Otis Cabaret in Sebastopol. Zydeco musician Henry Clemons was playing and, during a break, Sasha asked to sit in. Clemons gave him an elementary "musical literacy" test, had him play a little and was impressed enough to call Sasha up from the audience to play during the next set. Sasha became a regular at the Otis club, playing with Big Bones and opening for Maria Muldaur, Sherry Lee Taylor and Steve Goodman. It was through these Otis club gigs that Sasha met Bill Bowker, which eventually led to his big crowd debut at the Sonoma County Blues Festival.

Sasha's musical growth is enhanced by playing with a variety of other musicians. He has played in several piano trios, most often with Stuart (Stu Blank) 2000 and John Allair, although he played with Blank and Joel Rudinow at Evolution of the Blues II and has a gig planned with Blank and Sarah Baker. He has an enormous respect for Allair and Blank and says that their experience, professionalism and versatility motivate him. He is somewhat intimidated by them at times, but he feels comfortable playing with them and says they even give him a little room sometimes. Sasha is also busy with his own band. Although the personnel shifts a bit, the band usually consists of Claude Smith on bass, Willy Jordan on drums and Sean Allen on guitar.

Sasha has released one album, Straight Up, which has sold quite well, and he has enough material in the can for another album. [Sasha's second album, Spring, has since been released.] Straight Up has received excellent notices from Blues Access ("a monster ... outstanding chops ... ideas and sophistication way beyond his age...") and Blues Review ("stunning individual style ... extraordinary talent ... impressive Youngblood..."). Straight Up was indirectly made possible by Blues Beat. Sorely missed contributor Pete Babcock exchanged advertising for recording studio time at Route 44 and, since Pete is not a musician and had no use for the time, Uncle Mark suggested that Pete give it to Sasha. Because the studio time was limited, all of the tunes were recorded in one or two takes with almost no rehearsal. All of the songs are instrumentals (except for one Stu Blank vocal) and are originals. Listen to Nine Finger Boogie (a 147k, 14 sec. wav) from Straight Up.

Spring These days, Sasha listens mostly to jazz, especially Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubicaba. He does not care much for the rock and pop his friends listen to and, unfortunately, they don't like the blues. A ninth grader at Summerfield School, Sasha is loaded down with homework, and he also enjoys painting. Summer plans include a Hawaiian tour and, hopefully, a European tour. Sasha will also play the Monterey Blues Festival in late June and possibly, the Sonoma County Blues Festival. As for the future, Sasha plans to pursue a career in music. He says he will always play blues, but really hopes to expand more into jazz as he enjoys the challenge of its complexity. He would also like to add singing to his repertoire, but sheepishly admits he wants to wait until he is confident his voice has stopped changing before giving it a try. Listen to Desmasiado Basura (a 187k, 17 sec. wav) from Spring.

Sasha is quite humble and would like to publicly express his thanks to the following individuals who have supported him and his music: Bill and Lavonna Bowker, Stu Blank, John Allair, Harry Cale at Route 44 Studios, Uncle Mark Chait, Pete Babcock, Eric Crystal, Sean Allen, Steve Kimock, Ben and Regina Apostoli, Jerry Myers, everyone at the Bohemian Cafe, the members of the Sonoma County Blues Society, the entire Otis family, Randell Sequra and ... "my parents."

For more information about Sasha Smith and his two releases Straight Up and Spring, e-mail Buck n' Bronx Music at or contact Sasha Smith, P.O. Box 31, Graton, CA 95444. Phone (707) 829-6655.

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Nine Finger Boogie is from Straight Up Copyright © Buck n' Bronx Music, 1994. All rights reserved.
Desmasiado Basura is from Spring Copyright © Buck n' Bronx Music, 1996. All rights reserved.

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