Smith Dobson V bridges jazz generations 

click to enlarge Smith Dobson V, pictured with his mother Gail Dobson, plays with his band at Amnesia Thursday in a concert of music by Lester Young. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Smith Dobson V, pictured with his mother Gail Dobson, plays with his band at Amnesia Thursday in a concert of music by Lester Young.

Drummer and saxophone player Smith Dobson V and his The Prez Kids Band play a momentous concert this week.

Their show at Amnesia, a bar in the Mission, marks the last SFJazz event before the organization opens its long-anticipated new building near Civic Center.

Dobson’s show is part of SFJazz’s monthly “Hotplate” series in which Bay Area artists reimagine the music of jazz legends. On Thursday, the son of an acclaimed South Bay jazz pianist of the same name will present music by, and inspired by, sax master Lester Young.

His band includes Erik Jekabsen on trumpet, Danny Grewen on  trombone, Rob Reich on piano and accordion, John Wiitala on bass and Tony Johnson on drums.

Dobson wants to bring a younger generation to see jazz.

“Jazz music is dance music,” he says. “We are not a so-called swing band, but I am looking to play music with a more dance-friendly beat, reflecting on a time when the idea of crooners demonstrated a very romantic period of the music.”

Performing since he was a child — he studied with drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, played the Monterey Jazz Festival at age 11 and again at 15, leading a band — Dobson might be the perfect bridge to a new era in jazz performance in The City. He represents a new generation and has amazing dedication and enthusiasm, as well as respect for the history of a genre that constantly mines its roots.

“Lester Young was a very modern musician and there would not have been a Charlie Parker without him,” he says. “My goal is to connect with an audience. During the swing era, the music had that connection.”

But Dobson, who took up (and seriously studied) tenor saxophone after drumming, particularly enjoys heading up a group.

“Bandleading is just a lot more exciting than just playing your instrument,” he says. “And composing new music is the best of all. When you write something and put a band together, that is a tremendous feeling.”

That feeling is in Dobson’s history. His father, who died in 2001, not only was a performer who recorded and worked with Joe Henderson and Stan Getz, but also an educator and promoter. He ran a long-running, well-known jazz concert series at the Garden City in San Jose, where his young son made his debut performing with his family.

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Ken Vermes

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