Paul Smith, 1922-2013

Paul Smith B&WAnother pianist, primarily noted for his impeccable accompaniment of singers but who was also a soloist of wide ranging abilities, died today. Paul Smith was 91. He was probably best known for his work with Ella Fitzgerald. He also played for Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan and Doris Day, among others. Early in his career, he worked with Ozzie Nelson, Les Paul and Tommy Dorsey. For a quarter of a century, he was the music director for Steve Allen’s television program. With his 1954 album Liquid Sounds, Smith crossed markets, achieving success with both jazz and easy-listening audiences. As a leader, he recorded dozens of albums.

Singer Lyn Stanley, a friend who studied with Smith and whom he accompanied, told Don Heckman of The Los Angeles Times, “Paul was a perfectionist and worked every day to improve his art. When you worked with him, he expected the same of you.” To read Heckman’s obituary of Smith, go here.

Here is Smith playing for his family on his 90th birthday, April 17, 2012.

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  1. mel says

    Another favorite of mine gone…

    Apart from the LPs he made for Capitol which mainly appealed to the peripheral jazz fans, Paul Smith made many others for labels such as Verve where he was better able to display his virtuosity, inventiveness and exquisite taste.

    RIP Paul Smith.

    • ed Preston says

      Favourite Paul Smith Trio album, Intensive Care (Voss LP, 1978)….with Louis Bellson on drums and Ray Brown on bass. Talk about inventiveness WOW

  2. Terence Smith says

    I have always loved the accompaniments of Paul Smith to several singers. And I have periodically enjoyed his piano books, such as his arrangements of classic Charlie Parker tunes.

    Earlier this week I was looking through my piles of music books for a Paul Smith method book, which I think is titled ” How to Play Jazz Ballads”. It’s a really great book for which Paul Smith wrote a bunch of nice original
    ballads, in order to demonstrate ( very well!) how to use lush voicings.

    While I was looking for that ballads book, I remembered something: a question I always wanted to ask Paul Smith, and had missed a chance. My wife and I had noticed that in the fine print on the ( recorded about 1962) Bob Dylan album called “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” , the pianist who played the very plaintive boogie accompaniment behind Bob Dylan on “Corrina, Corrina” was… Paul Smith. It was atypical playing for him, but perfect for the setting. We went to hear Ella Fitzgerald at Bass Concert Hall in Austin Texas in about 1982 or 83, and we were thrilled to find that Ella’s accompanist that night was… Paul Smith! Ella and Paul were both great that night, and together they created moods that held the audience in Ella’s palm. You could see her pleasure with his responses to her, and his anticipations of where she wanted to go.

    But I was unable to get to Paul Smith that night and ask him if he was the boogie pianist on Bob Dylan’s album. I thought it would make him laugh that somebody knew.

    Mel is sure right that Paul Smith was and is exquisite taste personified. And proof if anybody needed it of Steve Allen’s (and some very hip singers) exquisite taste in music.

    RIP Paul Smith

    • Jon Foley says

      After much digging through discographies, I finally found a personnel listing for “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” and it revealed that the pianist on “Corrina, Corrina” was not Paul Smith, but jazz pianist Dick Wellstood.

      However, I also found that Paul Smith DID play keyboards on — wait for this — Frank Zappa’s album, “Lumpy Gravy”!