Modern Jazz Quartet pianist has died

The death has been quietly announced of Derek Smith, a British pianist who played with MJQ when he migrated to New York in 1957. He played much of his career with Benny Goodman.

Derek was 85.

derek smith

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  • Smith was a wonderful pianist but I think John Lewis, may he rest in peace, would object to Derek being called the “Modern Jazz Quartet pianist!” It was Mr. Lewis who co-founded the MJQ.

  • Derek became an in-demand studio player in NY for jingles film scores, etc. with whom I worked on occasion. He was a nonpareil driving jazz player who gave many of us great enjoyment.

    • This is from your link: “Smith moved permanently to the US in 1957 and immediately recorded with Percy Heath and Connie Kay of the MJQ.” This is likely a source of how the misinformation about his having performed with the MJQ got started.

  • The only MJQ’s pianist was John Lewis.

    “In 1946, John Lewis (piano), Milt Jackson (vibraphone), Ray Brown (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums), all members of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, formed a quartet as a side project.By 1951, the combo were recording as the Milt Jackson Quartet. In 1952, Percy Heath replaced Brown on bass and in late 1952 they changed the name to Modern Jazz Quartet. In 1955, the final switch to the band’s lineup occurred as Connie Kay (drums) replaced Clarke.”

    From Wikipedia.


    MJQ pianist John Lewis befriended a recently immigrated Derek Smith and hooked him up with a trio record date (of three songs) with two MJQ members, Percy Heath and Connie Kay – issued as a third of the Atlantic Records LP “Jazz Piano International,” which also featured pianists Dick Katz and Rene Urtreger.

    Smith played occasionally with Goodman. During the years Smith was active in America, Goodman only formed groups when he had engagements and he didn’t pay well, so it would’ve been tough for any musician playing “much of his career with Benny Goodman” during this time to make a living.

    Smith was more prominent as a studio musician, jazz party mainstay, and pianist on Johnny Carson’s early Tonight Show and the Dick Cavett Show. He was a solid and tasteful player.

    SlippedDisc writer Norman Labrecht probably just read the Wikipedia article on Smith.

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