A member of the band The Roots will follow his own roots next month with the much anticipated Homecoming of the Chief Show in State College.
Four-time Grammy Award winner Ian Hendrickson-Smith, a 1992 State College Area High School graduate and the saxophonist for The Roots — the house band for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” — will return home for a May 10 show at The State Theatre.
“It’s hard to enunciate how excited I am about it,” Hendrickson-Smith said. “It means a lot to give back, and coming home to play to a hometown crowd ... it’s hard to put into words.”
That’s the buzz around town as State College gears up for a night of world class jazz by a band featuring Hendrickson-Smith on saxophone and the return of dazzling jazz pianist David Hazeltine, who performed at the Centre Hills Country Club in August. Hendrickson-Smith and Hazeltine will be joined by prolific double-bassist David “Happy” Williams and the much celebrated Joe Strasser on drums.
“In the world of jazz, we are putting on a show that stars two legitimate giants and features a rhythm section that is as good as you can find in jazz,” local promoter and businessman Michael Krentzman wrote in an email. “But more importantly, these guys are very close friends who never get to play together. This is a lineup that is so excited to play together. This is lightening in a bottle. If this show were in New York or anywhere on earth, it would be significant.”
Hendrickson-Smith and company will also be giving back to local kids prior to the show, with a Master Class at 5:30 p.m. at The State Theatre.
“The artists and promoters want to support music in schools,” Krentzman said. “Children and their parents are invited — free of charge — to come and be entertained by and learn from the musicians.”
The last time Hendrickson-Smith played at The State Theatre was Jan. 22, 2010 as a member of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, a high-energy soul and funk band that took the world by storm starting in 2000.
“I have a handful of very, very close friends I’ll just come in to visit,” Hendrickson-Smith said. “I played at Zola’s a handful of times, I played The State Theatre with Sharon Jones, and I’ve played on campus. I try to keep my foot in the door.”
That’s a wonderfully humble way to describe his ability to get gigs in State College, but it’s also characteristic of Hendrickson-Smith’s approach. He alludes to how honored he has been to play with legendary musicians like Sting and Stevie Wonder (add Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, U2, Prince and Bob Dylan to the list as well, among others), how exciting it is to record music in hallowed New York City studios like Electric Ladyland and Atlantic Records, and how grateful he is to have such steady and meaningful work playing with the Roots. However, Hendrickson-Smith continues to leave space for wonder.
“I’m always in a pinch me state,” Hendrickson-Smith said, “and it’s been that way ever since I’ve had my success.”
It’s clear Hendrickson-Smith operates from his heart space, as is evident simply by considering his approach to making music, which, back when he was just getting started with State College Area School District music teachers Bob Labarca, Diane Gold, Rich Victor and Steve Bowman, consisted of practicing up to eight hours a day.
“It’s not just about the quantity, it’s the quality,” Hendrickson-Smith said. “I play every single day. It’s the time you spend by yourself working out the kinks. That’s the thing that never goes away. If you stop, you’re done. I attribute whatever success I’ve had to hard work.”
Along with the hard work he has put in on his instruments, Hendrickson-Smith explained being a successful musician is a multi-faceted venture.
“It’s not just about how you play,” he said. “It’s about who you are as a person. Do people want to be around you? Are you on time? Do you look right? All the while maintaining a personal identity.”
But, what propels it all is the passion for music, the internal capacity Hendrickson-Smith has to put it all together in an industry that can be grueling, but that tends to honor perseverance.
“I love to play the saxophone,” Hendrickson-Smith said. “I love to play the flute. I love to play whatever genre. I fully commit myself to that moment. You have to have all of your chips on the table. If you start to get dark, you’re done. Luckily, I was able to stick with it long enough to pay some bills.”
And now, Hendrickson-Smith is home with some of his favorite musicians to give back to his sacred, hometown heart space.
“From musicianship to energy, you won’t find music this great in New York, Paris or Amsterdam on May 10th,” Krentzman said, “because these guys are here.”
The Homecoming of the Chief show will be held 8 p.m. May 10 at The State Theatre. Visit www.thestatetheatre.org for more information.