From the moment Jazmin “Jazzy” Olivo and Courtney Isaiah Smith met, music became a cornerstone of their relationship.
Now, more than a year after Smith’s untimely death from COVID-19, Olivo is releasing music they made together — to keep his legacy and their collaboration alive.
“Our first date was full of music,” she said in a recent interview.
The two had met when they were in a jazz-fusion band, called The Mix. They had in common the fact that both had first become involved in music when they were three years old.
The pair talked on the phone for a long time before actually meeting up for a date — because, Olivo said, they were both shy. Smith came over, brought his keyboard and microphone, and they started talking about music and creating things.
“It was having fun with music and just being us, with no expectations and no perfection,” Olivo said. “Just simplicity, being funny and enjoying what we do.”
Smith brought up the Tejano star Selena, and sang along to her hit “Como La Flor.” Olivo, who is Dominican, asked him if he knew what he was singing about, and jokingly offered to translate for him.
When she sang Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Smith, in turn, posed the same question. Olivo said she confessed to Smith that she didn’t really understand what she was singing, because she learned the song when she didn’t speak English.
She stops to laugh at the memory.
“We never believed in love [or] attraction at first sight, but we had it,” she said.
A romance in music
Smith and Olivo were together for seven years. Then Smith — known on Utah’s music scene as a founder of the Jazz Vespers Quartet — died on Jan. 25, 2021, from complications of COVID-19.
Now, Olivo is working to continue their musical journey, by releasing music they worked on together before his death.
That means grappling with being by herself, both in her personal life and as a solo artist. The grief process has been “very devastating” for her, she said, but at the same time, “I feel I have held onto things that I know to do the best, which is music.”
Living together, co-writing songs was a part of the daily routine, she said. “It was like, ‘Okay, well the rice is cooking. Let’s do this, let’s work on this thing.”
One song, “Siente Conmigo” — “Feel With Me” — came from a session in the middle of the night three years ago. Olivo recorded Smith’s vocals at home.
“For some reason, we never released [the demo],” she said. They had intentions, but then tragedy struck.
On Jan. 23, 2021, a Saturday night, Olivo said she drove Smith to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. After she dropped him off, she said, she wasn’t able to communicate with Smith again.
The COVID-19 pandemic was still raging, and the vaccine had only been introduced a month earlier — and at the time was limited in Utah to people 70 years old or older.
Olivo said she waited in the Intermountain parking lot, as the nurses kept her updated on Smith’s status. He was doing well, she said, until — in the span of an hour — Smith became unresponsive. He died on Jan. 25, 2021, two days after entering the hospital. He was 37 years old.
When Olivo came back home, she said, it was snowing. She parked her car, got out, and noticed something black on the side of the road. It was Smith’s cell phone, which he had dropped two days before. When she took it inside and plugged it in, it still worked.
“The very last thing, workwise in a way, that Courtney shared with me was his passwords for his electronics, especially his phone,” she said.
On the device, she found notes he’d written regarding his music, their music, who should play what when and how, how to release things, and some original recordings.
“He left me messages on what to do because I was completely lost,” Olivo said.
One of the original recordings was “Siente Conmigo,” which Olivo released on Dec. 25, 2021 — Christmas Day — a few days before what would have been Smith’s 38th birthday.
“We edited that whole thing and we brought him to life, with his own vocals,” she said.
The cover for the single features Smith’s handwriting, and images from a favorite photoshoot of his, taken by Olivo on her phone.
“He had so much to say through music, but he was a person that was definitely shy,” she said. “He expressed his feelings through music. Like ‘Siente Conmigo’ was because we kind of broke up and he didn’t know how to tell me how much he loved me and needed me in his life, so he wrote a song.”
Music, Olivo said, was Smith’s form of communication.
‘Healing’ through performing
Olivo is scheduled to perform with her band, Aug. 17 in the Excellence in the Community show at the Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main St., in downtown Salt Lake City. Melanie Sawyer, a friend of Smith’s, will take his spot on keyboards.
Olivo said she is excited to perform, because “it’s healing.”
On June 29, Olivo released “Kidi Boom,” a song Smith wrote. She plans to release another song by the end of the year.
One of her and Smith’s goals with The Mix was to showcase the different types of music in Salt Lake City, particularly the different styles of jazz.
“We wanted to bring awareness to this part of the city, that Black communities are making Black music and jazz music, which is Black music, and embracing it in so many different ways,” she said.
She said that minorities have a harder time in the music scene, particularly when trying to reach people from whom they can learn and get support for doing their own thing.
For Olivo, music has been a lifesaver multiple times, and though she’s still learning to navigate this new version of herself, she said, “everything that I am releasing and doing is with heart.”
Olivo said it’s her journey and responsibility to share Smith’s magic and legacy with others. He was, she said, her soulmate, bandmate, co-producer and best friend.
“He touched so many lives, so many musicians and so many audience members,” she said. “He was a person that loved living and loved to live because of music.”
The Jazzy Olivo Quintet is scheduled to perform Wednesday, Aug. 17, in the Excellence in the Community show at the Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main St., in downtown Salt Lake City. The concert is free to the public.
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