Wednesday, August 25, 2010

San Francisco Jazz Man in Paris

 Farris Smith, Jr. Stencil Art
© Discover Paris!

If you are an aficionado of Paris stencil art, you have likely seen this image on at least one wall around town.  It is a stencil art portrayal of Farris Smith, Jr., contrabassiste extraordinaire, and the likeness is just as extraordinary as Farris' music!

I first encountered Farris years ago in the Châtelet metro station.  He would set up in the corridor at the end of the people-mover between Line 7 and Line 4, near the fruit vendor who was a permanent fixture in that part of the station. I noted that he had the official RATP card hanging from his bass, which meant that he was legally permitted to play there.  I never stopped to speak to him, but definitely appreciated his music.

Farris in the Metro
© Discover Paris!
Several months later, I went to a restaurant to hear a part-time American expat saxophonist play.  Lo and behold, there was Farris, tuning his bass!  He was to be one of the accompanying musicians that evening.  I introduced myself to him this time, and we had a brief, but delightful, conversation.  We've been in communication ever since.

Shortly after the encounter at the restaurant, I was privileged to mentor a young woman from Stanford University - Julia Blau Spiegel.  The president of Stanford's Jazz Orchestra at the time, she was in Paris for the summer, and was looking for a subject for an article that I encouraged her to write for the Bonjour Paris newsletter.  I told her about Farris, and suggested that she seek him out at Châtelet station to ask him for an interview.  This she did, and her article "Musicians in the Metro" was the result.

Farris grew up with music in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He was a teen during the 1960s and had the advantage of being exposed to an incredible variety of artists and musical styles during that era.  It was because of this wealth of experience that he embraced music and culture on an international level.  As a result, he has traveled the world, playing in Europe, the U.S., and Australia.  He has taught ethnomusicology at the University of Hawaii, and jazz bass at the Sidney Conservatory Annex at Coffs, Australia.  Farris considers himself a Eulipion musician, a term inspired by the song of the same name by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. As such, he considers his music "a duty-free gift for the traveler." 

Blue Bayou Restaurant Jam Session
© Discover Paris!

This spring and summer, the San Francisco jazz man could be found crooning and playing his bass on the bridge near the Hôtel de Ville.  Visit his Web site and his MySpace page to learn the latest regarding his gigs, travels, and everything else that is Farris.


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