All That Jazz
Steve Smith & Vital Information 30th Anniversary Tour comes to Scranton
Steve Smith and Vital Information is an American jazz-fusion group led by Smith, a multi-award winning drummer and former member of the rock group Journey. Smith and Vital Information are celebrating 30 years together and performing Tuesday, June 26, at 7 p.m. at The Radisson Lackawanna in Scranton. After leaving Journey in 1985, Smith continued on as the bandleader of Vital Information and has been exploring different avenues of swing, groove and creativity ever since. Smith answered some questions recently about his upcoming Scranton appearance, his busy schedule and what we can expect at the show.
Looking at your schedule, you have a very busy June ahead of you. What about these upcoming shows are you looking forward to?
We love playing together and having people enjoy our music and being swept up in the creativity and energy of the performance. Each day on tour is hard work: We leave the hotel early in the morning (usually 8 a.m.) and then drive an average of five to six hours a day. We’ll get to the new hotel at 2 p.m. and have one hour to do some unpacking and then off to a 3 p.m. load-in / setup and 4 p.m. soundcheck, then a 6 p.m. dinner at the venue and after that it’s time to play. The gig is what makes all the difficult work of being on the road worth it. The music fans in Scranton are especially fun to play for because they have heard a lot of good music and appreciate high-level playing. Through the work of Marko Marcinko, of the PA Jazz Alliance, the Scranton audience has developed a sophisticated musical palette. Marko also happens to be one of the best drummers on the music scene today, I always enjoy hearing him play.
How important to you are accolades like being voted Modern Drummer magazine #1 All-Around Drummer five years in a row, one of the Top 25 Drummers of All Time and voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame?
They are important to me because they represent an acknowledgment of the work that I’ve put into my musicianship. This year the readers of Modern Drummer Magazine voted me #1 Fusion Drummer. That is meaningful to me because it says to me that they are listening and like what they hear.
Can you give us some insight about the dynamic within the band and its members?
I’m clearly the bandleader but I’m very interested in hearing the ideas and opinions from all the band members, which informs my choices. Whether we are in the studio or putting together a live set list, I start with my ideas and the final result is a democratic process. Tom Coster, our keyboard player, has been with me since 1986. Before he was in Vital Information I played in his group and we recorded two albums for Fantasy Records, so we go way back. Tom is very funny keeps us laughing with his stories and inside jokes. Our bass player Baron Browne has been in the group since 1998 and goes on the road with his iPad full of movies to watch and has some classic funk to listen to. Vinny Valentino, our guitarist joined us in 2006 and is very devoted to raising his family. He and his wife Viviana are expecting their fourth child in mid-July. There is also Tyler Soifer, our soundman, and Brian Kornfeld, our drum-tech and driver. We all get along well and have a lot of laughs on the road and never run out of topics to discuss as all six of us drive down the highways in our 15 passenger van.
Does it seem like it has been 30 years?
The 30 years have gone by very quickly! It hasn’t just been 30 years of Vital Information for me but 30 years of life. When I look back it is hard to relate to the passage of time, it does seem to speed up as it goes. I’ve stayed inspired over the years and still have musical ideas to work out so I’ve kept the group alive. VI is my musical workshop where I get to develop my personal musical ideas and I’ve been fortunate that I’ve found some fantastic musicians that are interested in working on my ideas and I’m interested in their ideas. We are a good team and that also includes our agent Janet Williamson who tirelessly books gigs for us, and my wife Diane who takes care of the band business. It’s a lot of work to keep us working but what makes it worthwhile is when we get on stage and start playing, then all of the difficulties melt away.
What can we expect to see at the 30th Anniversary Tour performance?
We will be playing the music from our latest release LIVE! One Great Night, which is a CD+DVD package, we included a bonus DVD with a black & white video of the same performance that is on the CD. (Originally the concert was webcast and all that remained of the webcast was a black & white video.) We will also be playing some of the songs from the last 30 years of the Vital Information catalogue. When we re-approach those tunes from a new perspective they take on a very different life, which is quite interesting to us. We just finished touring the West Coast and are already hitting on the East Coast and Mid-West. When we get to Scranton it will be close to the end of the US tour. By that time I’m sure we’ll be exploring some very new and exciting musical areas!
— tom graham
If you go:
What: Steve Smith and Vital Information 30th Anniversary Tour
When: Tuesday, June 26, 7 p.m.
Where: The Radisson Lackawanna, 700 Lackawanna Avenue
Tickets: 383-9413 or firstname.lastname@example.org