Jazz master Ernie Smith goes gospel

JAZZ maestro Ernie Smith has gone gospel. And what a dose of gospel infused with jazz he dished out during the launch of his new album.

He fittingly launched Blessed Man at the Didima Lodge in the Drakensberg outside Winterton in KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend, to get in touch with his roots.

Close friends, family and the media were invited.

The relatively small stage didn't limit an electrifying performance as Smith enthralled the audience with his new songs. He sounded like a preacher too .

Highly acclaimed and multi-award winner Smith, who has four jazz albums under his belt, has been a Christian for years now. He said he decided to cut a gospel album because the time was right.

He said financial difficulties and frustration with the industry had moved him closer to God.

"When we go through difficulties in life, we run to God. The experiences I went through were too draining," he said, without divulging the details.

Smith doesn't think the decision to carve a gospel path would send his fans scattering.

"My fans have grown and I don't think I will lose them by venturing into gospel. In any case, my music has always had an element of gospel to it. Most didn't know my gospel background.

"This is the easiest album I have ever done because I was not doing it for commercial gain. I was just relaying God's message to His children."

Smith said he wrote all 12 tracks and recorded it in his new recording studio. In one of the tracks he collaborates with Jonathan Butler.

He might be playing gospel, but Smith pretty much sounds the same.

At some stage, I felt like I was in church with the repeated "Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus".

Smith said: "I am not ashamed of gospel because this time I am not playing for glory but for God.

"It's not about furthering a career. It's more thoughtful than playing jazz.

"I don't know what people do with their lives without God. I find it fulfilling to have God in my life. I started this project not because it was a good idea, but because it was God's idea."

From the sound of the album, he made a wise decision. Though he doesn't sing the traditional gospel songs like other well-known gospel artists, he is likely to keep his fans with his style. He might even gain more fans, who have a taste of good music.