It shouldn't seem strange to say that William O. Smith, also known as Bill Smith, composes chamber music, improvises in jazz groups, explores extended techniques on his instrument (the clarinet), and generally does what many musicians do these days: cross musical borders at will.

Smith began bounding across musical genres over 60 years ago, back when such genre hopping was greeted with suspicion. In a recent interview, Smith remembered that "when I went to high school in the 1940s, jazz was a dirty word. You couldn't play jazz in the practice rooms." But that didn't matter; already inspired by seeing clarinetist Benny Goodman at the San Francisco World's Fair in 1939, Smith played clarinet in various jazz groups and combos.

"Goodman not only inspired me as a jazz musician, but inspired me to learn more about classical music," says Smith, who fondly recalls the recordings Goodman made of pieces by Mozart, Debussy (the difficult Premiere Rhapsodie), and the formidable Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. Urged to further his musical education, Smith hit the road with a band, going east to New York. Once there, "I gave my two weeks notice," recounted Smith. "I had saved up $1,000, which I anticipated would get me set up in New York to go to Juilliard."

After a stint at Juilliard, Smith came back west and studied at Mills College with Darius Milhaud, the most famed member of Les Six, a loose group of composers crucial to Parisian musical life in the 1920s. Milhaud adored the energy and vitality of jazz. At Mills, Smith met Dave Brubeck and became a frequent collaborator with the pianist both at live shows and on recordings.

In 1959, Smith heard the flutist Severino Gazzelloni play Luciano Berio's Sequenza I: "When he got to that part where the flute plays two high notes at once—such control! I started thinking, maybe the clarinet can do the same thing." Shortly thereafter, Smith began his pioneering work, composing Duo for Clarinet and Tape at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, exploring how to play multiple clarinets simultaneously, and cataloging the chirps, croaks, and other surprising tones possible on the instrument.

Although Smith credits his pieces under one of two names—"I use 'Bill Smith' for jazz and 'William O. Smith' for nonjazz projects"—improvisation, composition, and experimentation cohabit peacefully throughout Smith's music, including in his latest work, Space in the Heart, an opera with a libretto by Peter Monaghan, one of the sages of Seattle jazz.

"Ever since I was a student," explains Smith, "I wanted to write an opera, like my teacher Darius Milhaud, who wrote opéra-minutes, short operas in the grand tradition. I wanted to write an opera in the jazz tradition." In Space in the Heart, three singers and an improvising group tell a tale of planetary exploration complicated by love and jealousy. At an age when most composers take it easy, Smith, at 81, keeps taking risks. recommended

Smith presents and discusses his jazz opera Wed May 14, Jack Straw Productions, 4261 Roosevelt Way NE, 634-0919, 7:30 pm, free.


Thurs 5/8


Not a nonprofit org, but a volcanic quartet fronted by one of the godfathers of freely improvised music in Seattle, Paul Hoskin. He's joined by two mainstays of the weekly jam session at the Blue Moon, keyboardist Matt Norman and Ethan Cudaback on drums, as well as bassist and longtime musical compadre David "Skip" Milford. Expect, in Hoskin's words, "a new lexicon of shapes and language." Beacon Pub, 3057 Beacon Ave S, 726-0238, 8—10 pm, free.

Fri 5/9


With a scrappy, can-do spirit, LUCO brings fun and adventure to the warhorses of classical music. On the program: Richard Strauss's mighty Death and Transfiguration along with gems by Debussy, the Nocturnes and the dreamy Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave, 652-4255, 7:30 pm, $10/$15.


I'm infatuated with "Light along the edge of water," Corey Fuller's contribution to Cotton, a compilation released last year by Dragon's Eye Recordings. Like much electronic music these days, "Light..." drones, yet Fuller eschews rhythmic stasis with tones that seem to twinkle randomly and then drift together into a distant, glittering wall of chimes. Fuller opens for the Portland duo of Seth Nehil and Matt Marble; both deftly explore the fringes and crevasses of quiet sounds. Fourth-floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 8 pm, $5—$15 sliding-scale donation.

Sat 5/10


Neto, a Brazilian pianist and flutist who has collaborated with Sérgio Mendes and the legendary Hermeto Pascoal, celebrates the release of his CD Alma do Nordeste (Adventure Music). Neto and his quintet make festive music leavened with rhythms (samba, tango, etc.) and instruments (melodica, shakers, woodblock, flutes, tambourine) not usually associated with jazz. Tula's, 2214 Second Ave, 443-4221, 8:30 pm, $15.

Sun 5/11


The cellist duets with a slew of musicians, from clarinetist Laura DeLuca of the Seattle Chamber Players to chanteuse Sarah Rudinoff. Roman's choice of repertory remains equally eclectic, encompassing Handel, Joni Mitchell, Silk Road Project composer Zhou Long, and Derek Berman. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave, 800-838-3006, 7 pm, $15—$20.

Mon 5/12


MoR commemorate the release of their latest disc, For a Look or a Touch (Naxos), by premiering Paul Schoenfield's Ghetto Songs. A song cycle for baritone, soprano, and narrator, Ghetto Songs sets the Yiddish poetry of Mordecai Gebirtig, a troubadour of the Krakow ghetto. Also, the Northwest Boychoir sings Yiddish choral music performed in the Terezín concentration camp. Works by David Stock, Erwin Schulhoff, and Egon Ledec round out the program. Recital Hall at Benaroya, 200 University St, 365-7770, 7:30 pm, $36.

Wed 5/14


Gail Perstein and Roberta Diesner play duos for English horn and piano by Fauré, obscure oboe virtuoso Antonio Pasculli, and Hindemith. Soprano Johanna Mastenbrook sings Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben opus 42. Seattle Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave, 622-6882, 12:10 pm, free.