From San Francisco comes word that trumpeter Allen Smith died last week at the age of 85. Smith’s musical career got underway at the same time as those of his San Francisco State College classmates Paul Desmond, Cal Tjader, Jerome Richardson, Vernon Alley, Roberta Mandel and Dick Vartaniah. He worked with them in various bands and with other Bay Area jazz mainstays, including guitarist Eddie Duran. Although Smith’s work as a musician never stopped, he fit it around his schedule as an educator who earned a masters degree and became a school principal. Smith played trumpet with Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Gil Evans and recorded with Ellington, Evans, Tjader, Flip Phillips and Hubert Laws among others. He was in the trumpet section on Evans’ classic Great Jazz Standards album, which is included in this collection of Evans’ Pacific Jazz recordings. He made his first album as a leader in 1998, when he was 72. From The San Francisco Chronicle:
Mr. Smith was a mainstay at the fabled Fillmore after-hours club, Jimbo’s Bop City. Along with venerable jazz bassist Vernon Alley, drummer Earl Watkins and others, Mr. Smith helped end segregation in San Francisco nightclubs in the late ’40s. He was one of the primary players at the short-lived Blanco’s Cotton Club on O’Farrell Street, the city’s first desegregated club in the elegant 1907 theater now called the Great American Music Hall.
“Opening a club with all-black entertaining and help, where anybody could come? That was quite radical at the time,” Mr. Smith recalled in 1998.
To read the entire obituary, go here.
Pat Goodhope says
Note that there is a great Allen Smith solo on the title track of a rare Benny Goodman LP/CD called ‘Happy Session Blues.’
Recorded November 15, 1958 this group is as modern as Goodman ever allowed outside of the band that went to Russia and Smith features a clear Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison influence on this marvelous track. The track also showcases fine solo work from Pepper Adams, Russ Freeman, Herb Geller and some fiery Goodman too.
It is a loss that there had not been more of Allen Smith with Goodman than just these few dates in November of 1958. Goodman clearly liked him, but apparently his enthusiasm was short lived as after this he doesn’t appear on Benny’s radar ever again.
(According to information from Smith’s friend and colleague Roberta Mandel, that had nothing to do with Goodman or his evaluation of Smith. She tells me that Smith tried living in New York for a while in the late ’50s and didn’t like it. He went home to San Francisco, studied for his masters degree in education and became a teacher, then a high school principal.DR)
dick vartanian says
Allen and I were good friends all the way thru school at SF State. We used to go to after hours jam sessions together (when I was still playing trumpet) and had a lot of fun “cutting” each other. Sadly, most of the time I lost.
Mr. Smith, like so many others we have lost, will leave a deep void.
Caroline Crawford says
Read the UC Berkeley/Bancroft Library’s oral history with Allen Smith online at:
(When you get to the site, you’ll find the link to Ms. Crawford’s interview with Mr. Smith in the box titled “What’s New at ROHO?” The conversation is a thorough exploration of his careers in music and education. Packed with substance, it covers Smith’s life in music, his philosophy as an educator and reflections on social change in his more than eight decades. It is anecdotal, humorous and personala fine way to learn about a man who made good choices and important contributions.DR)