Derek Smith, British jazz pianist, Died at 85


Derek Smith was born on August 17, 1931, in London and died in August 2016.

He was an English jazz pianist.

He played his first professional gig when he was fourteen.

Someone had rolled a piano out into the street, and Smith played for the VE Day celebrations.

Because of his parents’ protestations, he joined John Dankworth’s band when Cleo Laine was the female vocalist, and with many other British jazz musicians, including Kenny Graham and Kenny Baker.

He also started performing and recording for the BBC, but soon realized the place for him professionally, was America.

Just 14 days after arriving in New York, he recorded with the Modern Jazz Quartet.

One of his first engagements was working with his trio opposite Mel Tormé and Ella Fitzgerald at Basin Street East in New York.

Smith joined Benny Goodman’s band in 1961, and was a pianist on Benny Goodman – The Swing Era, released by Time/Life Records, as well as working with Connie Kay and recording copiously as a session musician.

He met Doc Severinsen when both were contracted to play a society gig.

Later, after when Severinsen was named leader of the NBC Orchestra, the “The Tonight Show Band”, he called Smith to be the pianist.

He played with the band for seven years while continuing to record daily in New York studios and work with Benny Goodman.

After The Tonight Show moved to the West Coast, Smith opted to stay in New York and continue his career as a “first call” studio musician.

He discovered his own band on NBC’s Musical Chairs game show after he left The Tonight Show.

After that “Musical Chairs” was cancelled, he began concentrating on jazz concert performances while continuing to record.

His trio album, Love for Sale, was nominated for a Grammy Award on 1989.

He has around 30 albums as leader to his credit in the United States and Japan. Described by critics as “fiery”, “passionate”, and having “an evil left hand”, he was a frequent headliner at jazz festivals around the world.

Derek continued to work with Goodman in the 1970s, and recorded as a leader from 1978.

Smith worked as a solo performer into the 2000s and also played in a trio with Bobby Rosengarden and Milt Hinton

Derek Smith passed away at 85 years old.