Born and raised in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Neal Smith has been playing drums since the age of five. By the time he completed high school he had achieved a remarkable list of performance accomplishments and earned an impressive array of awards, scholarships, and honors. With the support of his family, Neal continued his studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music where he received a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies and Performance, the first African-American to earn a degree in Jazz Studies from the Conservatory.
In addition to his academic training, Neal has studied with Vernell Fournier, Greg Bandy, Paul Samuels, Tom Freer, Bruce Collie, and Michael Rosen.
Neal performs regularly in clubs and concert halls, at colleges and universities, and at U.S. and International Jazz Festivals.
Neal leads his own group, which performs original compositions as well as classic arrangements of jazz standards.
Neal also performs regularly with internationally recognized artists and has shared the stage with the likes of Tom Harrell, Anita Baker, Geri Allen, Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Fortune, Jimmy Owens, Eddie Harris, Isaac Hayes, Gary Bartz, Benny Golson, Donald Harrison, Frank Morgan, Brian Lynch, Benny Green, Cyrus Chestnut, Frank Foster, Dewey Redman, Mark Whitfield, Ronnie Mathews, Rufus Reid, Wendel Logan, James Moody, Marlena Shaw, and Vanessa Rubin.
Beyond performing, Neal loves to teach developing drummers. He is currently an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music.
Recognizing the need for a record label that focuses exclusively on the production of jazz recordings, Neal founded the NASMusic label. Neal has recorded several albums as a leader and has produced several projects for various artists on the NASMusic label. These artist include Seth Lewis (Time Signature; 2009), Andrew Beals (Gravy Train; 2006) and Joseph Friedman (Cup O' Joe; 2006). Neal's most recent CD recording is the Neal Smith Quintet Live at Smalls which was released on the Smalls Live Label (smallslive.com). This album features: Eric Alexander, Steve Wilson, Mark Whitfield, Mulgrew Miller and Dezron Douglas. Currently in the works, Neal is releasing two additional albums for the which will be released on the NASMusic Label (2010). One of the works features soulful arrangements of Christmas holiday music. This album is titled This Christmas. The other recording will feature Neal's quartet performing arrangements of classic Jazz Standards.