Multiple woodwind specialist Ryan Smith is drawn to music across the spectrum of genres, regularly performing throughout the Midwest with symphony orchestras, new-music chamber ensembles, jazz combos, pit orchestras, and rock bands. As an international performer, he has toured in São Paulo, Rome, and Milan with the Américo Project and given concerts in Hong Kong and China with the Iowa Saxophone Ensemble. He holds Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music in Jazz Studies degrees from the University of Iowa, teaches saxophone and woodwind methods at Cornell College and St. Ambrose University, and keeps a private studio of saxophone, flute, and clarinet students.
As 2020 and 2021 saw the abrupt halt of live performances nearly everywhere, Smith redirected his focus to recording projects. One of these took place in Minneapolis with the chamber ensemble Trés and special guest Miguel Zenón. Zenón’s composition for the ensemble, El País Invisible, is part of a larger project spearheaded by Jose Zayas Cabán aimed at bringing attention to Puerto Rico’s absence and neglect in the cultural awareness of the United States. El País Invisible features an intersection of classical saxophone writing, jazz improvisation, Puerto Rican rhythms, and dissonant harmony.
Smith’s next recording collaboration is a music and film project produced by John Rapson. A core group of eight Iowa musicians together with Miguel Espinoza’s Flamenco Fusion band (Denver, CO) and blues performer Keven B. F. Burt (Iowa City, IA) will tell the story of Estéban el Negro—a Moroccan slave who traveled with theSpanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca in the 16th century. Estéban was the first African explorer of the New World, and his perspective was widely disregarded incontemporaneous accounts of Cabeza de Vaca’s travels. An audio-only version of the work will be released during the summer of 2021, and the full film will follow in the fall.