Faculty Profile

Drums Faculty
Jazz & Contemporary Music

Neal Smith is an internationally recognized drummer, performing regularly in clubs, concert halls, colleges, and at U.S. and International Jazz Festivals. He was the first African-American to earn a degree in Jazz Studies from Oberlin Conservatory. Neal leads his own group, which performs original compositions as well as classic arrangements of jazz standards. Neal also performs regularly with internationally recognized artists such as Tom Harrell, Anita Baker, Donald Byrd, Sonny Fortune, Rufus Reid, and Charles Davis.

I feel that music chose me. I was raised in a church that had a very good music ministry, and one day around the age of three I just sat down and started to play the drums along with the choir and band.

The first African-American to earn a degree in Jazz Studies from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Neal Smith went on to lead his own band, to share the stage with jazz luminaries here and abroad, and, seeing a need, to found a label focused exclusively on jazz recordings. Playing it forward, he says,
I feel it’s my responsibility not only to pick up where my fathers left off, but also to continually modernize the jazz sound through composition and performance. Ultimately, I feel I have a responsibility to positively influence other musicians in this truly African-American art form.

More information about Neal Smith can be found at nsjazz.com.

Jazz & Contemporary Music Department