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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Ray Smith directs BYU's showpiece jazz band, Synthesis. "It's like speaking different languages," Smith says of the instruments he plays. "Different instruments say different things."

OREM — After Ray Smith broke his leg last year, he couldn't haul all four of his saxophones around with him.

It was too difficult to maneuver with his leg braces and crutches.

(Smith had polio when he was 3, so he has braces on his legs.)

But rather than take a break from teaching and performing, he arranged to have duplicate sets of instruments at his home, his office and the music school.

That way he'd only have to haul a bag full of mouthpieces with him, and life could go on as usual, which for him is life at light speed.

"When I was a kid, I didn't do sports (because of my legs) so I had more time for music," Smith said. "After one of my surgeries in middle school, I found myself in a body cast up to my chest. I couldn't sit up, and it was really difficult to play clarinet and saxophone, so I learned the flute because I could do it lying down."

Today, Smith plays about 30 different instruments, including the bassoon, the contrabassoon, the piccolo, the English horn, a recorder, all four clarinets, all four flutes, all four saxophones, Chinese flutes, Japanese flutes, penny whistles, a South American quena, a Renaissance krummhorn and shawm.

When Chip Davis called him to play with Mannheim Steamroller, he asked him to bring his oboe, his recorder, an English horn and the krummhorn.

"It's like speaking different languages. Different instruments say different things," Smith said. "I started with the clarinet, and then I learned to play the saxophone for junior high jazz band, but once I realized you almost never get called just to play saxophone, I started learning to play other things."

When he's not directing Brigham Young University's showpiece jazz band, Synthesis, he's teaching students at the Music School in American Fork (started by one of his former students) or he's playing for a wedding or involved in a recording session.

He also has a wife and eight children.

"At one time I did a little percussion, and I grew up with three brothers with three trumpets, so there was always a trumpet around. I'd just pick one up and play it. During lunch one day, I played a friend's trumpet, and the teacher overheard me. When class started again, the teacher put me in my friend's spot, which was first chair."

He also plays the trombone, but he insists the woodwinds are the only instruments he plays in public.

He easily moves from instrument to instrument, even though the lip positions and fingering require him to constantly refocus.

"Once in a while, I'll have a fingering moment," he laughs. "The key is to not think too hard."

He often records background music and the musical scores on various projects. His saxophone starter welcomed "Good Morning America" audiences for years.

"I have recording in my blood," Smith said.

At 56, he's ready to break out on his own.

"I've been on a couple hundred other CDs of others. I'd like to do a fusion jazz project of my own," he said. "I also have some publishing goals. I intend to create a combination book and CD for music students."

What he doesn't do is watch much television or see many movies. He hasn't even seen all of the stage productions for which he's played.

"I don't have the time (for that)," he said.

Ron Brough, a BYU music professor who plays with Smith in the faculty band, Q'd Up, said Smith is a jazz diehard.

"Obviously, he's dedicated not only to his craft as a musician but to his community, his church and his family. He is the torch bearer for America's jazz."

"I think he's a great inspiration to all of his colleagues. There are no obstacles for him," said Kelly Eisenhour, who sings with Q'd Up.

"He's always happy. He never complains, but he has very high standards. He won't settle for less than the best. He's a consummate artist as well as a consummate teacher."


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