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2024 RJF Guest of Honor

Hal Smith


Hal Smith plays Classic Jazz, Ragtime and early Swing style drums. His home is in Searcy, Arkansas and he travels across the U.S. to play with Tim Laughlin’s New Orleans All-Stars, Michael Gamble’s Rhythm Serenaders, Banu Gibson and New Orleans Hot Jazz, Miss Jubilee and the Yas Yas Boys, vocalist Alice Spencer and frequently with bands led by Jeff Barnhart and Kris Tokarski. In addition, Hal leads  the  El Dorado Jazz Band, New Orleans Night Owls, Mortonia Seven, and On The LEvee Jazz band.

Hal began playing drums in 1963. He heard Ben Pollack, Nick Fatool, Wayne Jones and Fred Higuera in live performance and they are still four of his major influences. He also admires a wide variety of drummers in the New Orleans, Chicago and San Francisco styles.

Over the years, Hal’s primary association has always been with Traditional Jazz bands — including the Dukes of Dixieland, Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band, the Butch Thompson Trio, Black Eagle Jazz Band, Grand Dominion Jazz Band, Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band, the Yerba Buena Stompers, South Frisco Jazz Band, the Fat Babies and the Climax Jazz Band. He also sat in many times with Turk Murphy’s San Francisco Jazz Band and the St. Louis Ragtimers. In addition to his experiences as a jazz drummer, Hal has also played Western Swing, Rockabilly, Blues, Boogie Woogie and Swing with some of the best performers in those genres.

Hal has performed on over 200 recording sessions and on Minnesota Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” Texas Public Radio’s “Riverwalk – Live From The Landing,” Spitfire’s “Now You Has Jazz, Jazz, Jazz,” PBS television and on YouTube — programs hosted by April DeShields, British drummer John Petters and musicians Loren Schoenberg and Nick Rossi. Hal has also appeared on KASU/Arkansas State university’s “The Natural State of Jazz,” hosted by Marty Scarbrough.

Hal was one of the founders of America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society’s Adult Traditional Jazz Camp in 1995.  Currently he is on the faculty of the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp, lecturing on Jazz history, supervising student ensembles, performing with the faculty band and giving private instruction on drums. And recently, Hal joined the Board of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society/Bix Jazz Festival as Band Advisor.

When he is not booking bands, playing engagements or recording, Hal spends much of his time researching Jazz and Ragtime and writing about it for The Syncopated Times and other publications. His first book as an editor was recently published by Bear Manor Press and is available from

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