Steve Smith's drumming, while always decidedly modern, can best be described as a style that embodies the history of U.S. music. His original love of rudimental parade drumming is evident in his intricate solos. Likewise, his command of jazz, from New Orleans music, swing, bebop, avant-garde to fusion, is applied with his powerful rock drumming sensibilities and allows him to push the boundaries of all styles to new heights. His musical focus is committed to the exploration of improvised music incorporating styles as diverse as Blues, Jazz, R&B, Funk, Cajun and South Indian Carnatic.
Smith began studying the drums at age nine, in 1963. After high school, Smith studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston from 1972-76. There he received valuable instruction from such renowned teachers as Gary Chaffee and Alan Dawson.
In 1974 Smith's professional career began in full, at 19 years old, with his tenure in the Lin Biviano Big Band, which he toured and recorded with for the next two years. At that same time he also performed with bebopper Buddy DeFranco and was a member of free-jazz group The Fringe featuring George Garzone. In 1976, Smith began his association with jazz/fusion by joining violinist Jean-Luc Ponty's group and recording the 1977 landmark fusion album Enigmatic Ocean, which also featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth. It was while touring with rocker Ronnie Montrose a year later that Smith was asked to join the popular rock band Journey which brought his playing to the attention of a rock audience.
With Journey, Smith toured around the world and recorded numerous successful albums including the immensely popular Escape (Columbia 1981) and Frontiers (Columbia 1983), both of which garnered the band many Top 40 hits and worldwide sales of over 80 million albums. In 1985 Smith left Journey to pursue his original passion, jazz, and to continue his developing career as a session player. Over the past 30+ years, Smith has played on many hits with such diverse artists as Bryan Adams, Mariah Carey, Zucchero, Claudio Baglioni, Andrea Bocelli, Y&T, Dweezil Zappa, Ray Price, Corrado Rustici and Savage Garden.
Smith began leading his own fusion band Steve Smith and Vital Information while still a member of Journey, the group recorded their first album in 1983. Vital Information's release, Where We Come From, was voted Best Contemporary Jazz Recording Of 1998 by the Association For Independent Music. The band's 2007 Hudson Music release, Vitalization, has gathered critical acclaim around the world. The album features Steve's interest and abilities with rhythms from India including the South Indian rhythmic vocal art-form: Konnakol. Vital Information’s 2012 release, LIVE! One Great Night, is the first in a series of new recordings to be released to celebrate the group’s 30th Anniversary.
Smith has also maintained an extensive touring and recording career, appearing with many jazz luminaries such as Mike Mainieri's group Steps Ahead. This band, which included virtuosos such as Michael Brecker, Richard Bona and Mike Stern, was one of the most successful electric jazz groups and Smith contributed greatly to their tight, energetic sound for seven years (1986-1993 and again from 2005-present). Other high profile jazz touring and/or recording gigs that have filled the drummer's schedule include such artists as Ahmad Jamal, Michael Manring, Stanley Clarke, Randy Brecker, Zakir Hussain, George Brooks' Summit and the Buddy Rich Big Band, with whom he has performed in many tribute concerts to the late drumming idol. He also rejoined Journey in 1996 to record the reunion album Trial By Fire (Columbia 1996). Smith's calendar often includes many drum clinics in which he is able to display his phenomenal techniques and concepts to drumming students around the world.
Smith's explosive solos and intricate timekeeping served to gain him much acclaim from sources such as Modern Drummer magazine, whose readers recently voted him the #1 Fusion Drummer of 2012. He has been voted #1 “All-Around” Drummer five years in a row, in 2001 Modern Drummer magazine named Steve as one of the "Top 25 Drummer of All Time", in 2002 he was voted into the “Modern Drummer Hall of Fame” and in 2003 his Hudson Music DVD Steve Smith Drumset Technique - History of the U.S. Beat was voted #1 Educational DVD of 2003. The 2008, 2009 and 2010 Drum! magazine readers poll voted Smith #1 Jazz Drummer, and in 2009 Drum! readers voted Steve Smith Drum Legacy - Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants the #1 educational DVD.
In 2005 Steve was invited to be first drumset artist to perform at Zakir Hussain’s annual concert in Mumbai, India called Homage to Abbaji, a concert dedicated to the memory of Zakir’s father and tabla guru, Allahrakha. In 2009 Steve played at Carnegie Hall in NYC with a special quartet version of Zakir Hussain’s Masters of Percussion that also featured “Vikku” Vinayakram and Giovanni Hidalgo.
In 2011 & 2012 Steve has been touring with the virtuosic jazz pianist Hiromi as a member of her “Trio Project” which also featured Anthony Jackson on bass.
On November 24, 2015 Steve Smith has rejoined "Journey" and left again in 2020.