Hartsmith at Avalon

At first meeting, Bil Leonhart was the master and Cyd Smith the student, but for the last six months, the duo has played side by side as Hartsmith.

Hartsmith, a catchy composite of the musician's last names, was formed in 2009 when they started performing as a duo for Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Shows. Smith, 57, plays standard guitar. Leonhart, 72, plays seven-string guitar. The additional string carries a lower bass range, he said.

"I grew up with a bass player (his brother, Jay Leonhart) so I was used to having those bass notes, and the only way to replicate that is to add a string to my guitar," Leonhart said. "So it feels like a trio sometimes because of that little string."

While the majority of their set list is rooted in jazz, both musicians studied classical guitar in their earlier years — Leonhart at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and Smith at Stanford University.

"We both studied classical guitar, which helps develop your right-hand playing using fingers, which is far more complex than playing with a pick," Leonhart said.

Leonhart learned jazz playing causally with seasoned jazz musicians such as Stuff Smith, Urbie Green, Jim Hall, Gene Bertoncini, Bud Freeman and his brother, Jay Leonhart.

"Jazz guitarists are more or less closeted ... and typically learn to play on their own or with a teacher so they often play together in duos," he said.

"It's one of the easiest to pick up and the hardest to master."

Before teaming up with Smith, Leonhart played solo and participated in musical theater at Camelot Theatre, the Oregon Cabaret Theatre and OSF's Green Shows. His wife Presila Quinby, an actress at the Camelot and previously on Broadway, was his tie to local theater.

Leonhart will perform in Southern Oregon University's production of "Johnny Johnson," which runs through Sunday, Feb. 28.

Smith's interest in jazz evolved from playing bluegrass in San Francisco, playing in various bands from Boston to Seattle and, eventually, picking up western swing — her initiation into the jazz scene. Dabbling in most genres of music, Smith plays with a Grants Pass rock band, Willie and the Poor Boys, and with the acoustic trio, the Wire Conductors.

She went to Leonhart for lessons on how to play lead guitar, rather than rhythm.

The pair plays songs by Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, Django Reinhardt and other popular show tunes that "jazz" well.

"We have a pretty eclectic repertoire to play from, and we're always adding to it," Leonhart said.

Both guitarists also are songwriters, and while Smith showcases her work in her 1992 album, "Cyd Smith," Leonhart files his songs away.

"I'll leave it for some archivist to find someday and say 'Wow, this is pretty good,' " he said. "Besides, a jazz player composes every time he plays."

Leonhart has produced two albums, "Balmer Prayfal" (or "Baltimore Profile"), a compilation of jazz guitar songs, and "Together," a duet with his wife.

Hartsmith will play at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 7, at Avalon Bar and Grill in Talent. Starting this spring, Hartsmith will resume its regular gig on the second and fourth Sundays of the month at Tease restaurant in Ashland.

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