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Tommy Smith

The Last Clown (from Whiz Kids, Gary Burton)


composed by Tommy Smith, 1985
recorded on Whiz Kids, ECM Records, Gary Burton Group 1986

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The Last Clown (in Smith’s own handwriting from 1986)



This aptly titled date from the Gary Burton Quintet showcases two wunderkinds: saxophonist Tommy Smith and pianist Makoto Ozone. It was Chick Corea who recommended the up-and-coming Smith, just 18 at the time, as a Burton sideman. One year later, Smith was thrust into the ECM spotlight, bringing his robust tenor voicing to one of the finest outfits in the business. And speaking of Corea, one would be hard-pressed to find a more kindred spirit than Ozone, who at 25 was already a longtime phenom in his native Japan, and whose tutelage at Berklee led him to work with Burton.

These talents are showcased not only technically, but also compositionally. Smith leads the way with “The Last Clown.” This warm, nocturnal cityscape is the perfect appetizer for what’s in store. The space afforded to every musician is a testament to the group’s democratic flair. Those unmistakable vibes glisten like rain-slicked streets, Burton taking his sweet time to let every note sing, while Ozone deepens the proceedings with every key he touches.