Remembering pianist Derek Smith

Pianist Derek Smith performing at the 1991 Pensacola Jazz Party.
Pianist Derek Smith performing at the 1991 Pensacola Jazz Party.

Derek Smith was guest pianist for two Pensacola JazzFests in the early 1990s. There was a trio with bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Bobby Rosengarden. Derek also was pianist for our 1991 Pensacola Jazz Party. Accompanying photos were from that event.

Also, Derek was also guest pianist for the first Pensacola ball—also early 90s. That ball was held at Naval Aviation Museum. He commented at the time that he was at home with all these airplanes. Growing up in England during WWII and not quite old enough for the military, all the youth were trained as aircraft spotters.

Our guest column is courtesy of Sanford Josephson, author, who also fondly remembers Derek. This appears courtesy of Jersey Jazz, newsletter of New Jersey Jazz Society.

Norman Vickers, 10-5-2016

By Sanford Josephson

Derek Smith, 85, pianist, August 17, 1931, London — August 21, 2016, Township of Washington, NJ. Smith emigrated to New York City in 1957, and he quickly became active playing in the New York studios, helped greatly by his friendship with the bassist Milt Hinton. When I interviewed Smith in 2008 for my book, Jazz Notes: Interviews Across the Generations (Praeger/ABC-Clio), he recalled receiving a phone call from Hinton, who said, “Get yourself down to Columbia 30th (a legendary New York studio known for its natural acoustics).” Then, Hinton added, “By the way, you do play the organ?” Smith’s response was: “Of course. It has keys, doesn’t it?” The gig was for a recording by the New Christy Minstrels, and Smith said Hinton helped him get through it, even though he had never played the organ.

Pianist Derek Smith.
Pianist Derek Smith.

Smith also reminisced about the studio era, which lasted roughly from the mid-‘50s through the mid’60s. “There’s nothing like it anymore,” he said. “There was a need for musicians; we were all really busy. I was doing The Tonight Show, and then in the morning you’d do some recordings with some singers, and you’d do jingles. But nothing stays the same. The business changed, and all of a sudden there were rock ‘n roll bands, and all the entertainers went out to California.”

Bucky Pizzarelli described Smith to Jersey Jazz as “a fantastic piano player” and recalled playing with him on The Tonight Show. He also pointed out that Smith spent some time playing with Benny Goodman, an experience Smith also related to me. “I had a great friend, the drummer, Mousey Alexander,” he said, “who called me one day and said, ‘I’m going to get you with Benny.’ Before I knew it, there I am rehearsing with this big band, scared stiff, because Benny had this reputation. But I could read, and he put up Fats Waller’s ‘Stealin’ Apples’. The piano chorus was in the key of D, so I passed the test.

“I didn’t hear from Benny for years, but then, later on, when I’m really busy doing The Tonight Show and doing everybody’s record dates, he called me to do weekends. So I went out and played weekends with Benny all over the place. Then, he asked me to go to Australia, and The Tonight Show said they would get a sub for me so I could go. It was a beautiful band — Zoot Sims on tenor saxophone, Joe Pass on guitar, Peter Appleyard on vibes — and we started out in Sydney, and Zoot got a great big hand, and I got a great big hand; and Benny got pissed about the whole thing. So, we cursed each other out, finished out the tour, and never saw each other again. But everybody’s got a similar story about Benny.”

Smith was a fixture at the New Jersey Jazz Society festivals at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, NJ, during the 1980s. He usually performed in the “Piano Spectacular”. In 1986, for example, he was part of a group of pianists that also included Dick Hyman, Ray Bryant, Rio Clemente, Dick Wellstood, Joanne Brackeen, Art Hodes, and Jimmy Rowles. Hyman also remembers playing with Smith in duo piano settings. “He was my most frequent partner in duo-piano situations,” Hyman told Jersey Jazz. “We could read each other’s minds.”

At the 1988 Waterloo festival, Smith played in a trio consisting of Hinton on bass and Bobby Rosengarden on drums. That trio played together regularly in the ‘70s every summer at Disney World. “All year,” Smith told me, “Disney World would go with a regular trio, and then, for the hottest two weeks of the year, they would import Bobby, Milt, and myself, and we would play for two weeks. It was good for us. We would get away for awhile, and I was a hero to my kids because we got this nice big villa, and they got all the rides for free.” Smith, Hinton, and Rosengarden made one album together, The Trio (Chiaroscuro: 1994). “We played all the things we had practiced in Disney World,” Smith said, “bossa novas and straight ahead things . . . We should have done another album, but we all got busy and went in different directions.”

Concert producer Bruce Gast recalled to Jersey Jazz that Smith “was one of my early successes with the jazz series at the Watchung Arts Center. His exuberant playing style allowed me to use the term ‘keyboard pyrotechnics’ in publicity, and his personal magnetism helped to build the audience for his work and other solo pianists.” In later years, Gast said, Smith introduced “a piano version of ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ that was breathtaking, although he always showed humility, saying it lacked the fullness of the band version . . . I’m sorry I don’t have any funny Derek Smith stories to tell. He brought his own bag of humorous recollections to every outing, often reaching back to his time with the Goodman band. These tales spiced up each performance, leaving me and the audiences laughing.” Al Kuehn, producer of the annual Chicken Fat Ball in Maplewood, said Smith’s death, “hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew him well, and he played many times for various concerts I put on. Always cheerful, always pleasant, and always came to play. One of the greats.”

Smith started playing piano professionally at the age of 14. While still in London, he joined a band led by saxophonist John Dankworth. He also recorded for the British Broadcasting Corporation before deciding to leave London for the United States. In New York, he met trumpeter Doc Severinsen at a society gig, and that led to his becoming a regular on The Tonight Show when Severinsen was named leader of the NBC Orchestra. His Progressive Records album, Love For Sale, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1989.

His death notice, posted in The New York Times on August 21, 2016, said Smith’s “immense talent earned the respect and admiration of everyone who knew him.” That is borne out by some of the comments made to Jersey Jazz by those who played with him. “One thing you could say about Derek Smith — he always came to play and play 100 per cent, no matter what the circumstances were,” said clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski. “My greatest joy,” he added, “was introducing his playing to younger musicians who were soon in awe of his astonishing virtuosity, energy and musicality. He could lift an entire band with his playing and good humor, and he certainly did that for me countless times. Derek was a great inspiration to be with, and I’ll miss him terribly.” Trumpeter Randy Sandke pointed out that, “Derek always had a smile on his face and gave his all. He was a total musician, extremely versatile, but he shined most in small group and solo settings. A ferocious swinger, he was the spark plug of any band he graced. He’ll be dearly missed.”

Survivors include his wife, Shirley; daughter, Valerie Anderson, her husband, Brad, and grandchildren, Jared and Ryan of Emerson, NJ; and daughter, Helen Collins and husband, Matt, and grandchildren, Samantha and Trevor, of the Boston area.

(c) Reprinted from Jersey Jazz Journal, the New Jersey Jazz Society. All rights reserved.

Students, download your application for 2017 Jazz Competition

Student Jazz Competition
Student Jazz Competition

Plans for the 2017 Student Jazz Competition have begun, and applications will be accepted through Feb. 17, 2017. This will be the seventh year for the competition – showcasing the region’s talented student jazz performers and contributing much needed financial support.

To download a flyer with more information on the competition, click here (PDF, 250K).

To download the application form, click here (PDF, 350K).

For more information on the competition, see our 2017 Student Jazz Competition page.

CD Review: "Algorithmic Society," The Girshevich Trio

Algorithmic Society
The Girshevich Trio
Tapestry Records

The Girshevich Trio
The Girshevich Trio

Here’s an intriguing recording for the adventurous jazz listener. It features then-12 year old drummer, Aleks Girsevich, father and pianist Vlad Girshevich and virtuoso, elder-statesman bassist Eddie Gomez.
The title is sort of a double-entendre—Algorithmic Society. The real definition can be stated as a formula for solving a problem. The second portion of this entendre relates to the third and fourth syllable.

All compositions are by father-pianist Vlad, an Uzbekistani by birth and now resident of Colorado. Vlad has a long history of collaboration with jazz greats such as Arturo Sandoval, Jerry Gonzalez and drummer Horacio “el Negro” Hernandez.

This is not drummer Aleks’ first CD release as the first was recorded at age 11 and entitled Tomorrow. It was favorably reviewed by Critical Jazz and All about Jazz. The current CD was made in 2014, so now Aleks is 14. On some numbers the music is augmented by a string group and on the first number, Healing the Chaos, percussionist Rony Barrak joins the trio.

Of the nine pieces, which total one hour, my two favorites were Unborn Tales played at a moderate tempo and shows talents of Alex, Vlad and Eddie Gomez to best advantage. The most complex number is Algorithmic Society an upbeat tune with tricky rhythms, again showcasing the talents of all three.

Reviewing a CD of all-new music is a challenge. I understand that there are some reviewers who will refuse to review such. However, to supplement what I was able to glean from listening, reading the liner notes and the news release which came with the CD, I called record producer Tom Burns. Tom gave me some details and referred me to father-pianist Vlad Girshevich. A summary of supplemental information was that Eddie Gomez was a visiting performer at Dazzle Club in Denver. He graciously agreed to record with Vlad and Aleks. Rehearsal with Eddie was merely a talk-through of the numbers. Roy Barrak, middle-Eastern percussionist, was a friend and agreed to sit in on the first number. A string section was added later. I learned from Vlad that Aleks is now 14 and active with his school musical activities as well.

I look forward to a glowing career from young Aleks.

Tapestry Records, PO Box 892, 60615 U. S. Highway 285, Bailey, Colorado 80421-0982
www.caprirecords.com

Applications for 2017 Jazz Fest sponsors, vendors now available

JazzPensacola currently is seeking sponsors for the 2017 Pensacola JazzFest, to be held April 1-2 in downtown Pensacola.

ehsjazzPensacola JazzFest is a FREE all-jazz festival held in historic Seville Square in downtown Pensacola.

Jazz Pensacola produces the event with assistance from a variety of corporate sponsors and community organizations. The weekend festival, held early each spring, celebrates America’s unique musical art form—jazz. Volunteers work yearlong to present this festival as their annual gift to the community. Jazz Pensacola relies upon individual and corporate donors for their essential support.

We have posted complete details on all levels of sponsorship, as well as an application form in downloadable PDF form. Click here for the form.

Jazz Pensacola also has opened the application process for food and arts & crafts vendors at the 2017 Jazz Fest. A limited number of food vendor spots are available for this popular spring event, and selection is competitive. We strive to avoid duplication of menu items and to offer a variety of food choices for festival attendees.

For complete details on the application processes for both food vendors and arts & crafts vendors, and to download vendor applications, click here.

CD Review: 'Dream Suite, Songs in Jazz and Blues On Poems By Langston Hughes'

Dream Suite
Songs in Jazz and Blues on poems by Langston Hughes
Distributed by Di-tone Records

rosenThis is an “outside the box” recording in that it is not the standard jazz CD. It features poetry by Langston Hughes set to music by composer Louis Rosen. Vocalists are Alton Fitzgerald White and Capatha Jenkins. Likely the average jazz fan will be unfamiliar with any of the principals here.

In reading about the artists in the liner notes, accompanying literature for the reviewer and on Louis Rosen’s website, I learn that all have impressive backgrounds in musical theatre. And the music reflects that genre rather than the usual jazz styling.

On first listen, it was difficult to understand all the words. However, as suggested in the liner notes, I went to Mr. Rosen’s website www.louisrosen.com and printed the poetic lyrics. It made all the difference in being able to understand appreciate not only the poetry but the music itself. Isn’t that the way with both opera and musical theatre? It helps to better understand the “story.”

The liner notes indicate that the recording was made is 2002 and the premier performance was at the Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City in 2006.

The adventurous listener may wish to sample some of the songs by accessing Mr. Rosen’s website.
A sampling of the fourteen songs on this recording include: Harlem Night Song, Song for Billie Holiday, Hurt, Blues at Dawn and Dream Suite.