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Clayton County artist gives fellow musicians platform

For Halloween, Clayton County musician Al Smith is adding a new dimension to the Midtown Atlanta  Jam Session with a costume gong show. Celebrity judges actress Demetria McKinney (Tyler Perry's "House of Payne"), violinist Ken Ford, music executive Shanti Das, and vocalist Robin Latimore will decide who's hot and who's not.

For Halloween, Clayton County musician Al Smith is adding a new dimension to the Midtown Atlanta Jam Session with a costume gong show. Celebrity judges actress Demetria McKinney (Tyler Perry's "House of Payne"), violinist Ken Ford, music executive Shanti Das, and vocalist Robin Latimore will decide who's hot and who's not.

It’s no secret that Atlanta’s got talent. But aspiring artists are challenged with making sure their talents do not remain a secret.

That’s why, almost 15 years ago, Clayton County resident and musician Al Smith created the Midtown Atlanta Jam Session to provide a platform for artists to display their musical gifts. The open mic artist showcase is held each Wednesday at Apache Café near downtown Atlanta and lets local vocalists and musicians hone their craft.

Since its inception, it has grown wildly popular, attracting throngs of talented musicians and vocalists who perform covers and originals backed by the house band, led by Smith. It also attracts local bands sampling new tunes and professionals sitting in with the band during jam sessions. More important to the aspiring artists are the host of celebrities, producers, music directors and filmmakers (such as Tyler Perry) who flock there scouting fresh, new faces with the “It” factor.

“We encourage every type and style of musician to come here and do their thing because that’s where they build the confidence to really shine,” said Smith, who originally launched the Jam Session in the late 90s. “It’s not only a great venue for the artists, but it’s a great time for the audience because it’s packed with lots of talent.”

For Halloween, Smith is adding a new dimension to the Jam Session with a costume gong show. Celebrity judges actress Demetria McKinney (Tyler Perry's "House of Payne"), violinist Ken Ford, music executive Shanti Das, and vocalist Robin Latimore will decide who's hot and who's not. Prizes include $100 for the winner, second prize, $50 and third prize, cocktail.

"We’ve always attracted some of the most talented performers in Atlanta, but the gong show will bring out the best of the best," said Smith. "Being dressed in costume and judged by celebrities will heighten the drama for the artists."

An accomplished keyboardist and producer, Smith knows a few things about harnessing talent.

The Baltimore native began playing the drums at an early age before moving to the keyboard where he found his true calling. Smith thrills on the keyboard with a musical mastery of rhythm, melody and sound featuring lush piano and string renditions to funky bass and drums. His virtuosity transcends his jazz beginnings to an eclectic ensemble of styles and genres. That’s why his repertoire of accompaniments is diverse and deep, including the likes of Gloria Gaynor, Jennifer Holliday, Mandy Moore, saxophonist Kim Waters, Maysa Leak of Incognito, the late great saxophonist George Howard, R&B artist Brian McKnight, Will Downing, Usher, Kenny Lattimore, Goody Mob and Ken Ford (just to name a few).

He currently plays in the hottest venues around Atlanta, at corporate functions and is on a national tour with saxophonist Kim Waters.

“When you really love music, you appreciate and enjoy all genres by a variety of artists,” he said.