Society & Culture

Alex Smith

Just after 6 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, February 7, 2016, a tuxedo-clad Alex Smith sat alone on stage at a grand piano near the 50-yard line in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, set to accompany Lady Gaga as she sang the National Anthem to introduce the championship game between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos.  Smith was a natural for the gig: He is a regular member of singer-trumpeter Brian Newman’s quartet, they have backed Lady Gaga numerous times, and he knows her habits and needs.  “She’s very open, she gives us a lot of trust,” he says.  “She really appreciates it if you’re a good listener.  I’m not a flashy player, and she likes me to give her the space to do what she wants to do with her phrasing.  I try to keep it simple and stay out of the way.”

Pianist-organist Smith, just turning 39, is a Cincinnati native who attended the Cincinnati Conservatory in the late 1990’s, where he got to know Cleveland native Brian Newman and tenor saxophonist Steve Kortyka, another Ohioan who is also a regular member of Newman’s quartet.  With drummer Paul Francis, they have now worked together since 1999, and in New York City since 2003 at such venues as the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, the Rainbow Room, Iridium, Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel, and the Django, a new room at the Roxy Hotel named for the superb Swing-era...

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