Derek Smith (musician)

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Derek Smith (born 17 August 1931, London) is an English jazz pianist.

Smith began his career in his native England, playing his first job for pay when he was fourteen. Someone rolled a piano out into the street, and he played for the VE Day celebrations. Over his parents’ protestations, he joined John Dankworth’s band when Cleo Laine was the female vocalist, and with many other noted British jazz musicians, including Kenny Graham and Kenny Baker. Smith also began performing and recording for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), but soon realized the place for him professionally, was America.

Smith immigrated to the United States with no job awaiting him. Fourteen 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. He joined Benny Goodman’s band in 1961, and was 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.

Derek Smith met Doc Severinsen when both were contracted to play a society gig. Later, when Severinsen was named leader of the NBC Orchestra, the “The Tonight Show Band", he called Smith to be the pianist. Smith played with the band for seven years while continuing to record daily in New York studios and work with Benny Goodman. When 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.

Smith led his own band on NBC’s “Musical Chairs (1955 TV series)” game show after he left the “Tonight Show”. After “Musical Chairs” was cancelled, he began concentrating on jazz concert performances while continuing to record. Smith’s trio album, Love for Sale, was nominated for a Grammy Award on 1989. Smith 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 is a frequent headliner at jazz festivals around the world.

Smith may be heard on recordings ranging from the popular Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick and Steve Lawrence/Eydie Gorme tracks, recorded in the 1960’s, to jazz albums with Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy DeFranco, Louie Bellson, Milt Hinton, and Clark Terry. The material Smith has recorded also includes movie sound tracks among them Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986),[1] Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence; (1993).

The roster of singers with whom Derek Smith has performed go from Frank Sinatra[2] to Luciano Pavarotti,[3] Placido Domingo and Robert Palmer (in the Royal Albert Hall).[4] Lyricist Sammy Cahn, a good friend until his death, comedian Steve Allen, and many other performers have frequently called upon his accompanying and conducting skills.

He continued to work with Goodman in the 1970s, and recorded often as a leader from 1978. He worked as a solo performer into the 2000s and also played in a trio with Bobby Rosengarden and Milt Hinton.[5]


As leader[edit]

  • Love for Sale (Progressive Records, 1978)
  • My Favorite Things (Progressive, 1978)
  • The Man I Love (Statiras Records, 1978)
  • Derek Smith Trio Plays Jerome Kern (Progressive, 1980)
  • I'm Old Fashioned (Progressive, 1980)
  • Dark Eyes (Eastwind Records, 1983)
  • Derek Smith Plays the Passionate Piano (Special Music, 1987)
  • New Orleans Mardi Gras Explosion (Special Music, 1994)
  • The Trio - 1994 (Chiaroscuro Records, 1994)
  • New Orleans Mardi Gras Explosion (Special Music, 1994)
  • Dixieland Dance Party (Essex Records, 1995)
  • High Energy (Arbors Records, 2002)
  • Live in London (Harkit Records, 2004)

As sideman[edit]

With Marlena Shaw

With Nick Brignola Sextet feat. Pepper Adams

With Bill Watrous

See also[edit]