Gary Smulyan, one of the leading baritone saxophonists in the jazz world, has built an exceptional career marked by musical innovation, education, and a unique sound that sets him apart in the field. Born in Bethpage, New York in 1956, Smulyan’s musical journey is a testament to the transformative power of dedication and talent.
Smulyan’s early years were steeped in music, starting with his study of alto saxophone at age 16. However, it was the baritone sax that would become his instrument of choice and provide him with a distinctive voice in the world of jazz. His love for the baritone saxophone led him to explore the works of Pepper Adams and Gerry Mulligan, musicians who would profoundly influence his sound.
A milestone in Smulyan’s career was his tenure with the Woody Herman Orchestra in the late 1970s. Playing with this esteemed big band offered Smulyan valuable experiences and exposure, and this period allowed him to refine his powerful and robust baritone sound. His work with the Woody Herman Orchestra helped to establish him as a rising star on the baritone saxophone.
Smulyan’s career took off in the 1980s when he became a key member of the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. His work with this group highlighted his exceptional musicality and further solidified his reputation as a formidable jazz musician. His distinct approach to the baritone saxophone, blending technical skill with an emotional depth, marked him as an innovative voice in modern jazz.
Over the years, Smulyan has collaborated with an array of jazz greats, including Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Chick Corea. He has also led his own groups, creating a significant body of work as a bandleader. His discography is marked by a series of critically acclaimed albums such as “Hidden Treasures” and “The Real Deal,” showcasing his rich tone and sophisticated harmonic approach.
Smulyan’s achievements have been recognized with multiple awards, including several DownBeat Critics Poll Awards for Baritone Saxophone. Despite his extensive performance schedule, Smulyan has also dedicated much of his time to education. He currently serves as Associate Professor of Jazz Saxophone at the Purchase College Conservatory of Music, where his teachings shape the next generation of jazz musicians.
Above all, Gary Smulyan is celebrated for his mastery of the baritone saxophone and his contribution to the jazz tradition. His unique sound and innovative approach to the baritone sax make him a central figure in contemporary jazz. Whether through performance or teaching, Smulyan’s work continues to impact the jazz landscape, demonstrating the possibilities of the baritone saxophone and inspiring a new generation of jazz enthusiasts.