Percussionist, drummer, and composer Ches Smith is a forward-thinking, genre-bending musician with a bent toward experimental and avant-garde improvisation. Initially getting his start as a replacement touring musician with Mr. Bungle in the mid-'90s, Smith has established himself as a highly regarded collaborator with artists like Xiu Xiu, John Zorn, Mary Halvorson, and others. He has also issued his own inventive albums including 2010's Finally Out of My Hands with his Three Arches group, the 2012 solo percussion album Psycho Predictions, and his 2016 ECM debut The Bell with Mat Maneri and Craig Taborn.
Born in San Diego, Smith grew up in the Sacramento area, where he became interested in music in his teens, playing with a variety of punk, metal, and avant-garde jazz groups. After high school, he attended the University of Oregon, where he studied philosophy before relocating to San Francisco in the mid-'90s. Once in the Bay Area, Smith spent several years playing in bands and studying privately with percussionist Peter Magadini before enrolling in the graduate program at Mills College in Oakland. While at Mills, he studied percussion, improvisation, and composition under the tutelage of such luminaries as William Winant, Fred Frith, Pauline Oliveros, and Alvin Curran. It was during this period that Smith got his first big break, subbing for Winant as the touring drummer for Mr. Bungle, an association that also led to his joining Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant. After leaving Mills, Smith developed into an in-demand collaborator and sideman, splitting his time between performances with noise rock acts like Xiu Xiu and Secret Chiefs 3 as well as playing with cutting-edge musicians like Ben Goldberg, Annie Gosfield, Tim Berne, John Zorn, Wadada Leo Smith, John Tchicai, and others.