Sudden death of New York pianist

Sudden death of New York pianist


norman lebrecht

March 26, 2015

We are distressed to share news of the death, in his sleep, of the well-liked, modest and warmly adventurous New York pianist, Joseph Smith. He was 66 and had not been previously unwell.



His show “Joseph Smith’s Piano Bench” aired for two years on NPR’s Performance Today and his column, “Rare Finds,” appeared in Piano Today magazine from 1993. He was editor of eleven piano anthologies and made several recording, mostly of newly discovered works.

Benita Meshulam, a close friend, writes: ‘Joe was the most curious musician I have ever known, always looking for forgotten works, studying them thoroughly. He was interested not only in the works but the composers and investigated everything. He was a pianist who didn’t care about the condition of the pianos he performed on. It was his message that he wanted to get across–a real musician’s musician who lived and breathed his art. He was also the kindest and most generous colleague.’

He made an appearance in Ethan Hawke’s recent movie ‘Seymour’, about his mentor, Seymour Bernstein.


  • MIchael says:

    Probably one of the sweetest human beings I have ever had the pleasure to meet and a very very capable and unique artist. Bless you Joseph.

  • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

    Sad news, indeed. A fine musician and a fine colleague.

  • Lisa Yui says:

    A rare, pure musician who never performed for the pay or for the prestige, but for no other reason than for his love for the music. I am deeply grateful for the countless times he’s offered his inventive programs for my series at the Manhattan School of Music. I will miss his playing and our musical conversations/arguments.

  • Kathy Olsen says:

    This is a wonderful tribute to a brilliant colleague, mentor and friend. Joe came to the hospital after I had surgery and bought a baby gift when my daughter was born. He was truly one of a kind. RIP, dear sweet man.

  • Katy says:

    Such a kind, sweet man, and a very fine coach and pianist. What a sad loss for our community.

  • Mike Russo says:

    Although I saw him infrequently over the years, conversing with Joe was such a pleasure. I always sensed a kindred spirit in the way he would thoughtfully parse out an issue, not just that relating to music, but of virtually any subject matter. He could be at once strongly opinionated and polite and considerate…and loveable and funny with a wonderful NYC-imbued ironic flavor. So sad to know that I will not see him again.

  • Mark & Marcia says:

    We are shocked and stunned. Joseph, we will miss you greatly.

  • Bill Glazier says:

    This is a devastating shock to me. Joe, A brilliant pianist and sweet Unassuming person, would often come to my apartment and play through his various upcoming concerts. I will miss him so much, as a person, and will also miss his encyclopedia of knowledge in the field of music which I relied upon so many times. He was loved and respected by so many…

    • Steven Fredericks says:

      Everyone liked Joe. I never heard anyone ever say a negative word about him in the thirty years I knew him. I remember he played my very first audition in New York at Grace Bramson’s place at Studio 58. Very simply put, Joe was truly a good guy.

  • Dan Smith says:

    I’m Joe’s brother, Dan. It is comforting to read what people have posted here. Joe’s colleagues and friends at Montclair State College are in the process of planning a memorial to Joe, probably in the fall.

    Joseph Smith, pianist, vocal coach, music teacher, writer, and lecturer, died early on March 23nd, 2015. His death came as a sudden interruption of vigorous life. He is survived by his many colleagues and students who loved him for himself and for his musical insights, and by his loving brother Daniel. He was born on July 4th, 1948, the son of Robert Paul Smith and Elinor Goulding Smith.

    Joseph Smith’s website, will remain online through the end of 2015. Information on any memorial events will be posted there when details are known. Some of his videos can be found by searching YouTube for “joseph smith steinway1901.”

    In keeping with his wishes there will be no traditional funeral. His colleagues and friends expect to host a memorial event at Montclair State College in New Jersey, where he had been teaching for many years.

    • Cara says:

      I’m so very sorry for you and your family’s loss, Dan. I only worked with your brother a couple of times but he made such an impact on me. He was incredible to work with-as a musician and as a human being. He will be so missed. Take care.

    • Gloria Cox says:

      Joe’s uniqueness was appreciated by all who knew him. His thought process was logical, rational and moral. In the over 40 years we knew each other, I learned so much from our interactions. He was my “go to” for all things important, especially assisting with my adult disabled daughter.
      My positive thoughts are with you and I wish you, your family and friends my heartfelt sympathy. I just found out today. I’d been calling and e-mailing and was finally directed to the Internet. He’ll be in our thoughts forever.
      Gloria Cox

    • Nancy says:

      Daniel, we are so sorry to hear of this sad news. We have always felt a special connection to your family.

      My parents bought the beautiful School Lane house from your parents, and we lived there for almost 50 years.

      I grew up hearing about your father’s books, and my brother and I were always curious about the boys who had our rooms before we did. My storm windows had JOE written in black pen on the frame; my brother’s had DAN written on them.

      My father (96!) was reminiscing this week about our beloved home, and about Robert Paul Smith, and remembered “one of the boys came to visit us” in the 1970s or 80s.

      We recently watched the incredible Edward R. Murrow tv show that featured your parents, and you and Joe! To see your young parents and you and Joe in the attic study and the den, not long before we were to move in, was so touching.

      My dad wondered about “the boys”, which led me to this terribly sad news about your brother. We are reading Joe’s website and listening to his performances. Just beautiful!

  • camy matthay says:

    Devastating news. We will keenly miss him.

  • Georgina says:

    Joe, you will be missed tremendously !!!! Such a kind and lovely person.

  • Jim Pullman says:

    I grew up with Joe in Scarsdale, NY and was also a student of Seymour Bernstein. We reconnected when I moved back to NY a few years ago, and he was a guest at my house several times. He helped my son, an aspiring singer, in recent years as well (who just informed me of this sad news). I was looking forward to seeing him again.

  • Hector Martinez says:

    When I was growing up I had the pleasure of meeting Joe and spending time with him whenever he visited my family. He was very kind and wonderful to talk to. I have many very fond, wonderful memories of him and I see how he has touched and enriched the lives of so many people over his life. He was taken away from us way too soon but he shall forever live on in my memory. Rest in peace my friend.

  • camy matthay says:

    Very thoughtful memorial about Joe here – In Memory of Pianist Joseph Smith / Zum Andenken an den Pianisten Joseph Smith:

  • Robert Mobsby says:

    I had the good fortune to work with Joe for 20 years. He helped me prepare for performances of all kinds and, thank God, in the course of preparing for a recent recital, I last saw him on March 12th. In the course of a session we would frequently take up some musical point which would lead to another and I would typically have my world expanded by having a book or performance or bit of musical knowledge revealed to me from Joe’s vast knowledge and through his sharp intellect. I tacitly considered him to be one of the buoys marking my musical life in this city and I mourn the passing of this very talented and kind man. Thanks for all your help, Joe.


  • Graciela Penchaszadeh says:

    We’ve lost the magic of his music and the sweetness of his smile! He will be in our hearts forever!

  • Ed Berlin says:

    I just learned the terrible news. I always enjoyed my meetings and conversations with Joseph and looked forward to our next event . . . now, never to be. He was a fascinating musician and individual, well-read almost beyond belief. This is an immense and devastating loss.

  • Thomas Booth says:

    Joe was such a center piece of so many musical lives in New York. He played for many of my auditions, and if Joe was playing I felt more confident and could sing with more energy and freedom. He coached me often, and we performed a recital together for the NY Wagner Society which included Beethoven’s An Die Ferne Geliebte and several Wagner Arias and even some Handel. Joe was a kind friendly knowledgeable and supportive colleague. His untimely passing is certainly a shock and he leaves a void that can’t be filled by any other. Joe Smith was as part of the living music scene of New York as is Lincoln Center. Take time to enjoy his web site as it has much interesting information and a different side of Joe than those of us who knew him for his coaching and accompanying. May we all be so fortunate to be so well liked and remembered and appreciated.

  • Dori Di Palma says:

    Fantastic teacher and coach, Fantastic musician Fantastic human being! Bravissimo, Joe!

  • Thomas Mooney says:

    I was so suprised and saddened to hear of Joe’s too early death. He was one of the most kind and generous musicians I ever associated with, to say nothing of his amazing knowledge of musical repertoire. He was my opera coach for many years in my earlier life and always gave me confidence and support. His recitals at Lincoln Center were always a highlight for me as well. What a loss to the NY music scene.

    My condolences to his family and students.

    Tom Mooney

  • Tamara Haskin says:

    I want to express my sincere and heartfelt condolences for Joe’s passing. I was very touched by this news. Joe was dear colleague and wonderful person. He was an outstanding accompanist and coach. I had the pleasure of working with him when I lived in NYC. I loved how his studio was jam-packed with stacks of operatic & piano scores…and how he could practically play any one of those scores by heart with precision and accuracy. He was always so very kind to me and I will miss his gentle spirit. May he find rest in God’s presence.

  • William Wingfield says:

    I am deeply saddened to hear of Joe’s death. He was a superb musician, a mentor to me, and a friend. He got me started in my accompanying career in New York in the late 70s. After I left New York in 1979 I kept in touch with him intermittently over the years. The last time I saw him was in 2013 when my wife and I visited New York for our tenth anniversary. I am so glad she got to meet him. I had talked about him so much to her. He was a true gentleman, an incisive wit, a thinker and a scholar.