Website last updated: 21-7-2019

JAZZ in the LA sky with legendary bass player Putter Smith

By: Mark Cerulli
Published:
2019-05-17
Putter Smith Jazz player
After interviewing Putter Smith for FSWL in 2015, my main takeaway was that Putter was a musician first and an actor second – or even third. He was so passionate about his calling that I became curious to see him perform. As the son of a Grammy-nominated jazz writer and editor of Downbeat Magazine, I should know more than I do about the art form but I can appreciate good music in any style so when Putter offered tickets to an appearance at Airbnb’s Jazz In The Sky series at Downtown LA’s U.S. Bank Tower (the third tallest building in California), I jumped at the chance to finally see him do his thing...

In person, Putter Smith is somewhat shy, even guarded; still a bit taken back that almost 50 years later, fans remember him from his epic turn as “Mr. Kidd” in Diamonds Are Forever (1971). The one place where he really cuts loose is his music and on a slightly chilly (for LA) evening, Putter was performing with The Pablo Suñé Jazz Quartet at the U.S. Bank Tower’s Skyspace, 70 stories above the streets below. After a year of regular gigs, the band had become a well-oiled machine, made up of some of the best in the business – Argentine-American bandleader Suñé has played regularly at clubs throughout LA and also composes for film and TV. Saxophone player Mack Goldsbury has performed with legends like Stevie Wonder and Cher... drummer Kenny Elliott has appeared with Stevie Wonder, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald and other top marquee names, and, of course Putter was on bass. Before Diamonds, he was playing with the likes of Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles and in the 48 years since his brush with Bond, he has played non-stop so he is rightly considered one of the best jazz bass players in the world.

The Quartet’s sound was nothing short of sublime as they delivered on standards like Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite, Fragos/Baker/Gasparre’s I Hear A Rhapsody and Jobim’s Bossa Nova classic Desafinado, with Pablo providing the vocals himself – as he did on a haunting version of Henry Mancini’s 1961 ballad, Moon River. Putter stood in the back, next to his beloved, century-old bass, totally lost in the music, his head slightly swaying back and forth.

Putter Smith with The Pablo Sune Jazz Quartet
Putter Smith with The Pablo Sune Jazz Quartet in Los Angeles on 14th May 2019. Photo by Mark Cerulli.

One highlight was a musical duel between bass and drums – Kenny Elliott would unleash a blistering drum solo and Putter would answer back on his bass – the crowd loving every chord. On his solos, saxophonist Mack Goldsbury showed a total command of that very difficult instrument, and, of course Pablo’s guitar playing was effortless and magical throughout. Even tourists who hadn’t come for the show would stop, watch and snap photos. During the break, the musicians were quite approachable, happy to chat with Airbnb guests as well as a certain Bond website writer.

As we left after both one-hour sets, I couldn’t help but realize two things – Jazz is definitely Putter’s reason for being and Guy Hamilton – a jazz fan himself – was an absolute genius for casting him!


Putter Smith with Dom Cerulli’s 1961 paperback The Jazz Word
Putter Smith with a rare copy of Dom Cerulli’s 1961 paperback, The Jazz Word. Photo by Mark Cerulli.

For more information on this remarkable Jazz ensemble, go to pablosune.com

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