Paul Smith (pianist)

Paul Thatcher Smith (April 17, 1922 - June 29, 2013) was an American jazz pianist.[1] He performed in various genres of jazz, most typically bebop, but is best known as an accompanist of singers, especially Ella Fitzgerald.[2]

Paul Smith
Birth namePaul Thatcher Smith
BornApril 17, 1922
San Diego, California, U.S.
DiedJune 29, 2013(2013-06-29) (aged 91)
Torrance, California, U.S.
GenresJazz, bebop
Associated actsElla Fitzgerald, Johnny Richards, Les Paul, Tommy Dorsey, Dinah Shore, Dizzy Gillespie, Anita O'Day, Buddy DeFranco, Louie Bellson, Steve Allen, Stan Kenton, Mel Tormé, Sammy Davis, Jr.

Early life

Smith was born in San Diego, California to parents, Lon Smith and Constance Farmer, who were vaudeville performers and encouraged his interest in music. He began studying piano at age 8, and led a jazz band in high school and became a professional musician at 19 with the Johnny Richards band.

Later life and career

After playing with Richards in 1941 and spending 1943 to 1945 in the military,[2] Smith worked with Les Paul (1946–1947) and Tommy Dorsey (1947–1949) before moving to Los Angeles and becoming a studio musician. Studio work took up much of his time: he worked as a staff musician for NBC and Warner Brothers, and for many years he was the musical director for Dinah Shore’s daytime talk show.

Smith recorded frequently both with his trios and as a soloist. In addition he is featured on work of artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Anita O'Day, Buddy DeFranco, Louie Bellson, Steve Allen, Stan Kenton, Mel Tormé and others. He was the musical director on The Steve Allen Comedy Hour television show in the 1960s.[3]

Between 1956 and 1978, Smith was active as a conductor and pianist for Ella Fitzgerald,[4] although he continued to work with her until the early 1990s.[2]

He also worked on film scores and his playing can be heard on the soundtracks of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Nickelodeon among some others.

Smith died on June 29, 2013, in Torrance, California of heart failure. He was 91 and performed in Southern California nightclubs, including The Velvet Turtle in Redondo Beach during the 1980s and the Terranea Resort hotel until his death. He is survived by his wife of 54 years Annette Warren; his daughter, actress Lauri Johnson; two sons, Gary and Paul; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.[5]


As leader

  • Liquid Sounds (Capitol, 1954)
  • Cascades (New Liquid Sounds By Smith) (Capitol, 1955)
  • Cool and Sparkling (Capitol, 1956)
  • By the Fireside (Savoy, 1956)
  • Delicate Jazz (Capitol, 1958)
  • Latin Keyboard & Percussion (Verve, 1960)
  • Brazilian Detour (Warner Bros., 1966)
  • Intensive Care (Pausa, 1984)
  • Paul Smith Plays Steve Allen (Pausa, 1985)
  • Charlie Parker for Piano (Granite, 1987)

As sideman

With Herb Alpert

With Chet Baker

With Buddy Bregman

With June Christy

With Bing Crosby

With Ella Fitzgerald

With Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

With Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie

With Plas Johnson

With Buddy Rich

With various artists

With Bill Withers

With Frank Zappa and his Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra

With various artists

  • Jam Session No. 102 (Ray Lawrence Records; recorded 1952, release date unknown)


  1. Heckman, Don. "Paul Smith dies at 91; jazz pianist, arranger, composer". Retrieved July 3, 2013.
  2. Peter Keepnews "Paul Smith, Jazz Pianist, Is Dead at 91", New York Times, 3 July 2013
  3. "Paul Smith: Piano star who played with the greats". The Telegraph. Retrieved July 4, 2013.
  4. Yanow, Scott. "Paul Smith". AMG. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  5. "Paul Smith, Jazz Pianist, Is Dead at 91". NY Times. Retrieved July 4, 2013.
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