Jazz pianist and member of the Tonight Shows resident band in New York
If George Shearing was the first British jazz pianist to amplification braving prominence in the US, the musics homeland, it was Derek Smith, who has died aged 85, who arguably achieved “the worlds largest” all-round success there. Already recognised as an completed jazz player in London, having is collaborating with John Dankworth and Kenny Baker, Smith took the submerge in 1957 and soon gained credence in New York as an exciting forte-piano soloist while becoming a versatile if predominantly invisible figure in the non-stop macrocosms of jingle-jangles, popping books, soundtracks and live TV shows.
Although he returned home sometimes to visit and play, there was never any question of him vacating his adopted country, for he remained in demand there right to the end.
Smith was born in Stratford, east London, the second son of Sidney, an Inland Revenue employee, and his wife, Lillian. It was his mother who attended to it that “hes taking” piano lessons. Having reviewed and considered the classical range from the age of seven, he was introduced to jazz by hearing an Art Tatum recording. He recalled receiving his first remunerate packet at the age of 14 when he played for a neighbourhood VE Day party. Perpetrated to a modernist jazz approaching, Smith was a devotee of Oscar Peterson. He took a safe position in assurance while playing at night with the saxophonist Kenny Grahams Afro-Cubists at the Flamingo in Soho, acquiring a Music Maker contest and constructing well considered preserves with other modernists.
After national service in the Royal Air Force( 1949 -5 1 ), he resumed his date/ night employment pattern before altering amply professional with the John Dankworth orchestra in 1954, leaving a year later to form the New Jazz Group, with the drummer Allan Ganley, which recorded for the Nixa label. In 1956, he secured what he called the best gig for a jazz musician with Kenny Bakers Dozen, a rightfully all-star attire whose line, Lets Settle for Music, on the BBC Light Programme, became hugely popular. Despite such recognition, in April 1957 Smith and his new bride, Shirley they met in a jazz organization migrated, employing the trans-Atlantic expedition as their honeymoon.
Forced to sit out six months before being able to join the New York musician uniting, Smith procured make playing forte-piano in the sheet music section of the department store Macys. In a chance encounter at a concert, John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet befriended him and booked him to make a trio preserving with the bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay, issued under Jazz Piano International. Thus propelled, he was called to accompany the singer Mel Torm even before hed joined the union. He eventually worded the British Jazz Trio with fellow expatriates, the bassist John Drew and drummer Kenny Harris, recording in 1961.
That same time the drummer Mousey Alexander get him a plaza with Benny Goodmans orchestra, just as it was due to tour South America. Smith was to work with Goodman a number of eras , not always harmoniously.