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Smiths remain an area jazz fixture

Husband and wife to perform Feb. 28 at Novel Café in Pasadena.

February 25, 2014|By Kirk Silsbee

Pasadena and its environs have had a jazz presence since at least the 1950s, when artist Jirayr Zorthian hosted a clothing-optional party for Charlie Parker in 1952. A few years later, youngbloods like vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, bassists Albert Stinson and Herbie Lewis, drummers Mike Romero and Jim Keltner, and saxophonists Richard and Pete Aplanalp were developing their own jazz profiles. Through his decades of rock-steady playing and teaching, 71-year-old Altadena bassist Putter Smith is one of the Pasadena jazz patriarchs.

Putter (his given name is Patrick) is well known for his warm sound, strong support, and lyrical contributions to improvisations on song forms. As the younger brother of the late bassist Carson Smith, founding member of the high-profile Chico Hamilton Quintet, Putter had access and entrée to many of the great jazz players in Los Angeles.

One of them was piano virtuoso Walter Norris. "We played together off-and-on for 50 years," Smith said, at Norris' passing in 2011. "He had the technique to play like Art Tatum in the '50s but his own playing was very different from everyone else. It was 'out' — kind of like Cecil Taylor played back then, but he had his own chord choices. As the music got farther and farther out harmonically, I just tried to be the center of the music."

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"He was my biggest influence as a working musician," Smith added. That influence included a template for character. "He was a truly noble human being. He gave his life to the music, and never shirked what he felt was his duty. Walter spent his entire life trying to improve his grasp of the music." The same can be said of Putter Smith.

The Novel Café on Colorado Boulevard is known for its thick-cut French toast, Crispy Organic Chicken and Seafood Pasta. But on the weekends, diners have the added bonus of live music. Like Pinocchio's on Lake Street, the Novel is where Putter and his wife, singer VR Smith, are most often heard.

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