Russell Schmidt

Russell Schmidt

Russell Schmidt hits career high note with performance at Birdland

Last week, Russell Schmidt, director of jazz activities, had “the most significant gig I’ve ever had.” Schmidt performed with Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Joe Lovano and members of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra at the world-renowned Birdland club in New York City.

Schmidt, a jazz pianist, performed works composed by Lovano and popular standards arranged by CJO bassist Dave Morgan. Also performing with the group was incoming BGSU graduate student Nathan Douds, on drums.

The Friday and Saturday performances were recorded and will be released on a Cleveland Jazz Orchestra CD.

Fronting the 16-member big band was Lovano, a native of Cleveland, who has recorded as a leader with Blue Note Records for the last 15 years, releasing more than 20 albums during that span.

Schmidt said he became involved with the orchestra, which he described as a “loose aggregation of musicians,” last November when he was invited to play with them at the Bop Stop,” a “magnificent place” in Cleveland’s Flats district. They needed a pianist when Lovano appeared with them, and “I was pleased to be first on the list,” Schmidt said. That led to the even more exciting gig at Birdland.

While the original Birdland opened in 1949, the famed club is now in its third location in midtown Manhattan, where it has been operating since 1986. In the past 20 years, artists such as Michael Brecker, Dave Holland, Diana Krall, Kevin Mahogany, Pat Metheny, Tito Puente, John Scofield and Tony Williams have performed there, as have the big bands of Toshiko Akiyoshi and Maria Schneider.

Schmidt noted that getting the Birdland gig also demonstrates how talented a drummer Douds is. “It was a real coup for us to have him join our graduate program,” he said.

Schmidt, music performance, holds two degrees from the Eastman School of Music, where he was a student of legendary jazz educator Rayburn Wright. As a jazz performer, he has worked with such artists as Eddie Daniels, John Hollenbeck, Gerry Mulligan, Arturo Sandoval and Clark Terry. He is also the artistic director for the Toledo Jazz Orchestra.

In 1998, he was one of only two American jazz pianists selected to participate in the Martial Solal International Jazz Piano Competition. Schmidt has served as a keyboard soloist with more than 30 professional orchestras, including performances with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center and the San Francisco Symphony. As a composer and arranger, he has written for artists as wide-ranging as jazz saxophonists Bob Berg and Michael Brecker, the Ying String Quartet and the chamber music group Rhythm & Brass.

July 17, 2006