April 11, 2017 – Toby Smith (Jamiroquai) was born Toby Grafftey-Smith on October 29, 1970.
Growing up he received classical training on piano and early on developed a keen interest in the “nerdy” side of music. At age 14 he started recording his own tunes on a Tascam and produced his first record at 17, then signed his track “Kleptomaniacs” to London Records. At about the same time his sister took him clubbing in London and he developed an interest in house (dance) music.
A couple of years later he met Jay Kay, Jamiroquai’s vocalist and founder, who had a recording contract and was shopping for a band around his first single release and after a little bit of back and forth, they founded the Funk/ Acid Jazz band Jamiroquai in the early 1990s.
Jamiroquai, a name that combined the music-based word, JAM with the name of the American tribe the Iroquois found its original lineup to include drummer Derrick McKenzie, keyboard player Toby Smith, bassist Stuart Zender, and vibraphonist Wallis Buchanan), the single was a success and was soon followed by a long-term and lucrative recording contract with Sony. Jamiroquai’s full-length debut, Emergency on Planet Earth, followed in 1993 and became a major hit in their native England (peaking at number one on the charts), spawning such Top Ten hit singles as “Too Young to Die” and “Blow Your Mind.”
The band’s second release, The Return of the Space Cowboy in 1995, managed to steer Jamiroquai clear of the sophomore jinx that affects so many up-and-coming bands, as it out-sold its predecessor in Europe and was a sizeable hit in Japan, as well.
With most of the world dancing to Jamiroquai’s beat, America was next in line for the band’s third effort, 1996’s Traveling Without Moving. The album spawned the worldwide hit “Virtual Insanity,” for which an award-winning video was filmed and helped the album achieve platinum status in the States by the year’s end (as well as a highlighted performance at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards). Despite achieving breakthrough success, bassist Zender opted to leave the group during sessions for its follow-up album, which resulted in scrapping almost an entire album’s worth of new tracks in order to start from scratch with a new bassist (the slot would eventually go to newcomer Nick Fyffe). During the downtime, Jamiroquai contributed a brand-new track, “Deeper Underground,” to the soundtrack for the 1998 movie Godzilla.
But the long wait between albums seemed to kill Jamiroquai’s momentum in the U.S. Slackened when 1999’s Synkronized was largely ignored (although back home and across the globe, it was another major commercial success). It appeared as though the majority of Jamiroquai’s U.S. media attention focused on non-music-related events, such as the band turning down a million-dollar offer to play at a concert on New Year’s Eve 1999, and Kay being accused of assaulting a tabloid photographer, charges that later were dropped.
It didn’t take Jamiroquai as long the next time around to issue another album, with A Funk Odyssey hitting the racks two years later in 2001.
Citing fatigue and a desire to cease touring to be with his family and pursue other projects, Toby amicably departed Jamiroquai during the Funk Odyssey Tour in late April 2002.
He left the band he had co-founded with Jay Kay for a farm in Northamptonshire, where he built one of the England’s finest residential recording studios. Angelic Studios hosted numerous leading musicians including Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, the grime artist Skepta and the rapper Dappy. Angelic Recording Studio near Banbury, Oxfordshire and became the producer and manager for UK pop band The Hoosiers. In 2013, Smith co-produced X Factor winner Matt Cardle’s third album, Porcelain, as well as providing songwriting contributions.
He also became a keen horseman, a cider-maker and an obsessive collector of classic cars and mowing machines. A man of rare energy and charisma, he was a classically trained musician whose flights of fancy on one of his many keyboards – his latest was a vast white grand piano purchased from Andrew Lloyd-Webber – would, for the entertainment of friends and family, see him move from Bach improvisations to jazz.
He reportedly fought cancer around 2012, which sadly returned and took his life at 46 years old on April 11, 2017.