Bill (William Ernest) Smith. Saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, editor, photographer, record producer, b Bristol, England, 12 May 1938. He studied aeronautical design at the North Staffordshire Technical Institute in Alsager, England, before moving in 1963 to Toronto. There he has collaborated with John Norris in the production of Coda, 1963-76 as art director, after 1967 as co-publisher (with Norris), 1976-83 as co-editor (with David Lee), and subsequently as sole editor. He was a founder in 1968 (and has been co-producer with Norris) of Sackville Records (see Coda), and in the mid-1970s of its subsidiary label, Onari, which issued recordings of improvised music by Stuart Broomer, Maury Coles, Paul Cram, Lloyd Garber, Randy Hutton and Peter Moller, and the Bill Smith Ensemble.
Smith has written extensively for Coda and also has contributed to other music publications. His photographs have appeared in North American and European jazz magazines and in books, the latter including For What Time I Am in this World (Toronto 1977), Jazz Styles (Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1991), Routes (Hamilton, Ont, 1986, illustrating the poems of James Strecker) and Smith's own Imagine the Sound No. 5: the Book (Toronto 1985). Imagine the Sound is also the title of a feature-length documentary film co-produced by Smith and Ron Mann in 1981 about the US musicians Bill Dixon, Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor, and the Canadian Paul Bley.
Having played drums and trumpet in England before 1963, he took up the soprano saxophone during a sojourn there 1966-7, studying with Ronnie Beer and, after his return to Toronto, with Paul Brodie, Brian Barley, and James Warburton. He began performing publicly in 1973 with the pianist Stuart Broomer and was a founder during the later 1970s of a succession of groups devoted to free improvisation in its various forms: the All-Time Sound Effects Orchestra, the CCMC (member 1974-7), the Avant Garde Jazz Revival Band, Air Raid, and the New Art Music Ensemble (N.A.M.E.). He also began to perform with the Artists' Jazz Band at this time.
N.A.M.E., which became the Bill Smith Ensemble in 1980, comprised the violinist David Prentice and the bassist and cellist David Lee, variously assisted during the decade by the vibraphonist Larry Potter, the drummers Richard Bannard and Stich Wynston, and the guitarist Arthur Bull. It toured Canada with the German trombonist Gunter Christmann in 1979 and on its own several times during the 1980s; its Canadian itinerary included concerts in galleries and cultural centres and a week's residency at Expo 86. The ensemble performed in 1982 in England and Holland; its US engagements included concerts at Soundscape in New York and DC Space in Washington. As The Last of the Red Hot Dadas the ensemble created improvised accompaniment for silent films in Toronto and on tours of the Maritimes and northern Ontario. Smith also has prepared scores for several contemporary films and videos and has collaborated with a variety of performance artists in sound poetry and mixed-media events.
As the sopranino saxophonist 1986-8 of The Six Winds, a Dutch-based saxophone sextet, he twice toured Europe and in 1988 performed at several Canadian jazz festivals. He has also appeared in Canadian, US, and European clubs and festivals as a soloist and/or in the company of his European contemporaries - eg, with saxophonist Evan Parker at the 1986 Berlin Jazz Festival, with Parker and/or saxophonist Wolfgang Fuchs on tour in Canada (including the Festival International de musique actuelle de Victoriaville) in 1988, and with Fuchs on tour in East Germany in 1989. Smith moved to Hornby Island, BC, in 1989 but continued to edit Coda and toured in a multi-media program, Duck Soup, with Arthur Bull.
Playing, for the most part, sopranino, soprano saxophone and alto clarinet in these settings, Smith has fashioned a modest, conversational free improvisatory style that finds a generally lyrical median between his US and European influences. Among his compositions, which have a functional simplicity and brevity that dispense quickly with formality, A-Configuration, First Jump, Up [A Love Song] For Captain Robot, Little Boo, Bones & Giggles, Interludes, Oops, Three Simple Songs, Sofort, Pick a Number, Rituals, Little Bits, Home At Last, and Tickle Yer Fancy have been recorded.