Initially he was afraid of Smith, who attended the same church, the Montclair Citadel in New Jersey. "We used to say he had ice water in his veins instead of blood because it was hard to get a reaction from him," says Baker, who now considers Smith a good friend.
"When he plays his trumpet his main thought is: 'Everything for the Lord.' "
Philharmonic principal trombonist Joseph Alessi has worked with Smith for 15 years. His "quiet, peaceful" manner can appear to be standoffishness at first, but it is not, Alessi says. Smith even has a little-known humorous side. Alessi recalled that once, after the spiky-haired violin soloist Nigel Kennedy performed with the Philharmonic, a playful Smith showed up for a solo rehearsal in a wig.
"He's concerned about what is good and right, and that rubs off on all of us. Occasionally he makes references to Jesus, but it's always a result of the other person instigating it. I think in some master classes he's given, he's been criticized for bringing up God, but it's done in a very tasteful and enlightening way. He's not foisting it on anyone."
Smith explains: "I try to let the Lord's love reflect from me."
Alessi remembers, years ago, running into Smith in his Salvation Army uniform, when he was playing on the street during Christmas. "I just thought, 'This guy has a night off and that's what he does. I was so impressed. Most people think of Salvation Army musicians as garbage men doubling on brass instruments. These guys were great musicians.' "
Like Christian athletes who kneel before games, Smith still prays before every concert.
"And I pray during. I say, 'Lord, I got the jitters here,' " he says. " 'Calm me down and help me play the best I can.' "
He was particularly nervous this month before a difficult solo in Aaron Copland's "Quiet City" with the Philharmonic. "I asked my wife to pray that the devil doesn't let feelings of fear attack my mind." He knows such talk of Satan doesn't go over well in secular circles. He smiles, unrepentant: "I do believe in the spirit world," he says.
Until six years ago he conducted the Montclair Citadel band, and he still plays when he can get the time. Last week he and his wife, Sheila, a lyric soprano, performed with the band at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
More than 100 red-robed choir members from a local high school stood behind the band, dressed in Salvation Army blues. The audience roared when Smith walked on.
"It's good to see him out there," says Vernon Post, who played in a band with Smith's father. "You don't go much higher than the first chair of the Philharmonic, yet he gives his time."
Again Smith stood by a small red kettle placed on the stage. And as he played the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah," his former student, Michael Baker, heard once more the golden sound that told him Christmas was near.