Buster Smith

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“Fat” sax, Charlie Yardbird Parker, jazz, Buster Smith-Count Basie Band of Rhythm




Buster Smith's band playing the Coconaut Grove in KCMO, 1946 (Photo courtesy of popcultureblog.dallasnewscom)
Buster Smith’s band playing the Coconut Grove in KCMO, 1946
(Photo courtesy of popcultureblog.dallasnewscom)


Henry “Buster” Smith grew up in the outskirts of Dallas, Texas in the early 1900s with racism alive and strong. In his teenage years, Smith would often pick cotton in the hot Texas heat only to make $3.50 a week. He used his money wisely and bought his first clarinet with his hard-earned cash. Also known as “Buster,” Smith started his musical career at the age of 18 after teaching himself how to play not only the clarinet, but also the piano, guitar and saxophone. He became known for his loud, robust, often described as “fat” sax sound. He achieved this by using a tenor reed in his alto sax. After playing with the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, Smith and the band made the way to Kansas City in 1930 where be played with the likes of Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing. In fact, Smith became somewhat of a mentor to the Kansas City Great, Charlie “Yard bird” Parker. A few years later, Smith and Basie formed the “Buster Smith-Count Basie Band of Rhythm.” But, after playing in Kansas City for more than 10 years, Smith went back home to Texas where he recorded his first solo album with Atlantic Records called “The Legendary Buster Smith.” Unfortunately, in the 1960s, Smith was injured in a car accident and was never able to play the sax again. He was still able to play the bass, though, and continued playing at local joints almost until his death in 1991 at the ripe age of 86.