Saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith has played with longtime funk band Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and Amy Winehouse, and is currently accompanying The Roots on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
Starting this month, Hendrickson-Smith will bring his brand of funk to The Strand Smokehouse in Astoria every Sunday night.
An Astoria resident for the past five years, Hendrickson-Smith said he attended his “neighborhood watering hole” frequently and became friends with the manager and bartenders. Once they discovered that he was a professional saxophonist, the group invited him to perform at the restaurant.
Hendrickson-Smith, along with four professional musicians who he has dubbed “The Strand Band,” played a few one-off shows and were successful in stirring the crowd, he said.
“Two weeks ago, it was the Sunday before Memorial Day and it was jammed in there and we had people dancing on the tables and freaking out,” Hendrickson-Smith said. “I mean, when the place is packed we can lift them up into a frenzy.”
The staff at The Strand Smokehouse invited the group back and they will now be playing free shows every Sunday night at 7 p.m. for the next several months.
Hendrickson-Smith has assembled a diverse group including Clark Gayton on trombone, guitarist Al Street, organ player Eric Finland and drummer Eric Kalb. Each of the musicians have many years of experience, and have individually played with performers such as Sting, Bruce Springsteen, St. Vincent, David Byrne and more. The ensemble will be playing a “funky” and “swampy” collection of music at the restaurant.
Hendrickson-Smith began playing the flute in the fourth grade and discovered then that he wanted to make music his career. He switched to saxophone right before attending the Manhattan School of Music.
Ten albums and many performances later, he was asked to join The Roots crew when Jimmy Fallon took over hosting duties for David Letterman on “The Tonight Show.”
“It was a very sudden thing. I got the phone call on a Friday and I was at work on Monday,” Hendrickson-Smith said. “It was pretty unexpected.”
The saxophonist said he really enjoys working with band leader Questlove, who is “very clear and concise about what he wants,” which allows for the true vision of the music to shine through.
Hendrickson-Smith also owns and operates his own record label, Rondette Jazz. Started in 2014, the record label was originally a vehicle for releasing his own music but he soon started releasing records for his friends. This is his second attempt at running a label, he said, after the first label he owned with his friends was unsuccessful. This time, the musician controls every aspect of a release including mixing, promotion and artwork.
“This is a labor of love for sure because I’m putting out jazz music primarily,” Hendrickson-Smith said. “So the market for jazz is very slim but I love the genre so much. I’m really swamped but you know, it’s a joy [and] I love doing it.”
Though his career is filled with unexpected twists and turns — he was given one night’s notice to play a show with U2 at Madison Square Garden earlier this summer — Hendrickson-Smith said the uncertainty keeps his music “palette interesting” and allows him to play a variety of music. He said he is excited to showcase the music he and his friends have been working on and will eventually record The Strand Band’s music in a studio.
“I think it’s a really unique, cool, interesting thing that even in Manhattan I think would stick out a little bit,” he said. “And the fact that it’s in Astoria and there’s no cover charge, I would just push people to come out and give it a try and at least see if they dig it.”
The ensemble is scheduled to play for a few months but Hendrickson-Smith said it all depends on the community’s reaction. He’s hoping that people will spread the word and tell their friends about the shows because “[there are only] so many times I can ask my friends to come out [so] we’re depending on the neighborhood to respond.”
The Strand Smokehouse is located at 25-27 Broadway and serves a variety of smoked meats, sides and brunch items.