West Philadelphia-born and raised, Christian’s budding musicianship was nurtured early by observing his father, fellow bassist Lee Smith, while his mother, he recalled, “enrolled me in every single music program in Philly: the All-City Orchestra, All-City Jazz Band, Settlement Music School Jazz Ensemble, Temple University Youth Orchestra, Temple University Youth Chamber Group.”
By the time he entered the Philadelphia High School For Creative & Performing Arts (CAPA), he’d transitioned from electric to upright bass and began to forge working relationships with fellow young musicians.
“My best friend growing up was (jazz organist, trumpeter, and vocalist) Joey DeFrancesco. We inspired each other: We went to the same high school, so we were together five days a week for four years, so we were learning from each other. Then starting in my junior year of high school, we had a new student come in, whose name was Amir Thompson—the rest of the world knows him as Questlove (drummer/co-leader of The Roots)—and then we started playing together every day. So I was very fortunate to go to CAPA because everybody there was insanely talented at something. You had no choice but to be inspired and practice every day because there was somebody around you every minute of the day doing something incredible.”
Away from the bass, Christian is the dynamic host of NPR’s Jazz Night in America and embraces his role as Jazz House Kids co-music educator along with his wife, Melissa Walker. Yet, for him, all music roads lead back to Philly.
“I am so proud of our hometown because they keep turning them out all the time,” Christian added. “Every generation there is a handful of musicians that come out and onto the world stage—and they just kill it. And, I’m just so proud of the fact that music education is still important in Philadelphia so that they are getting training and sharpening their skills. Because everybody has talent at something, but they don’t follow up on that to strengthen it and build it and to learn more about what it is that they’re doing, but Philadelphia has never had that problem.”
Because everybody has talent at something, but they don’t follow up on that to strengthen it and build it and to learn more about what it is that they’re doing, but Philadelphia has never had that problem.