Sudden death of an organ star

Sudden death of an organ star


norman lebrecht

June 26, 2020

We have been notified of the death of Jane Parker-Smith, a formidable British organist once called ‘the Martha Argerich of the organ’. Jane died at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. She was just 70.

Jane studied in Paris with the legendary blind organist Jean Langlais and made her BBC Proms debut at 22.

She made numerous international tours and many recordings.

Her death comes two months after that of Jennifer Bate, her close rival. It is a very sad loss.


  • Kelvin Grout says:

    That is so sad and shocking. She and I had a piano lessons as young teenagers, one after the other with the same teacher in Southampton. She was the absolute Queen of the organ!
    RIP Jane

    • Pauline Turpitt says:

      We shared the same organ tutor at the RCM. Before Jane arrived I was doing well but after I realised just how feeble my efforts were in comparison.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    This is sad news. I have to admit that she had completely faded from my memory, but my very first organ LP was her Music For Pleasure “Favourite Organ Masterpieces” produced in 1972. If I recall rightly, MFP LPs cost 99p in those days. As an impoverished student, every p mattered to me. Her performance of BWV 565 gratified me, but probably annoyed vast numbers of my neighbours.I shall play it later on today, relaxed in the knowledge that my nearest neighbour is too far off to hear. RIP.

    • Paul Dawson says:

      I had forgotten that she’s also the soloist on my Glagolitic Mass CD (Rattle). She does a superb job on that wonderful organ solo at the end.

    • John Rook says:

      Agree entirely. I was only thinking about her the other day though, and googled her accordingly. I, too, bought that mfp album with its wonderful soft-focus photo of the artist at her organ. RIP, Jane.

  • Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure I agree with you calling Jennifer Bate “her close rival”. This makes it sound as if they were in some sort of competition, even adversaries! Surely her colleague, or contemporary would be more appropriate and sensitive wording.

    • steven holloway says:

      Spot on. However, NL likes clickbait, and sometimes one just has to resort to ambiguity, distortion, or, um, not exactly true, aka truthiness, when there’s really no clicky stuff there. I’m just glad we didn’t have to read that Jennifer Bate ‘baited’ “her close rival”.

    • Jeannie says:


  • Rosalind Mohnsen says:

    I was fortunate to hear her several times and also to meet her. Marvelous performer and fun person! So sad to hear.

  • Ivan says:

    OMG!!! I can not believe one of my childhood idols whom I met in real three years ago at a pub after her wonderful solo recital in Stockholm died so suddenly!

    At the end of the evening I felt completely in love with this most wonderful, generous and warm hearted and fun lady, whom I had to tell openly that she was exactly the fun aunt I always dreamt of having, to be able to visit her as much as possible and hear her fantastic life stories.

    Seldom I met anyone whom I fell in love so instantaneously!!!

    What a sad news!!!

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    How do you actually know that she and Jennifer Bate were “rivals” ?

    • You need to confirm your identity and what you do as you are using the same name as Jan Kaznowski, violinist ex BBCSO who is active in the music profession. Michal Kaznowski Maggini Quartet.

      • Ivor Morgan says:

        “No, I’m Jan Kaznowski” a la Spartacus

        C’mon guys – names don’t have to be unique to every person in the world. Anway, isn’t “Jan” the Polish equivalent of “John” ? Already you’re shortening the odds re: people having the same full name.

  • Ann Labounsky says:

    I remember when she performed in Pittsburgh. A brilliant performer

    • Jonathan Gray says:

      Dear Ann L, I’ve loved your wonderful musicianship for many years, and am heartbroken to hear about JP Smith.

  • Jane was a dear friend. We met (I think: it was a long time ago) through the Wednesday evening (5.55pm) organ recitals in the Festival Hall (in the late 1970s/early 1980s), whereafter a group of us would convene at the bar and the jollity would continue for the rest of the evening. She had a reputation of being a rather raunchy lady, but the Jane I knew was not like that: she did indeed have a terrific sense of fun, and yet her personal standards of morality were surprisingly conservative, even strict — she was someone you could trust absolutely. I shall miss her.

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    Very sad. A brilliant performer. RIP

  • Joanna Chivers-Gibbs says:

    Very sad news. A player of great and wide skill who was able to reach out to people outside the usual organ world. Personally,
    always so vivacious and full of life – dare I say the polar opposite of the public image of the “lady organist”.

  • Harold Stover says:

    She was one of the most electrifying performers I have ever heard and a whole lot of fun to hang out with besides. Comparing her with Martha is high praise but I think perfectly apt. RIP, Jane, but way too soon.

  • Gayle says:

    Over half a century ago Jane & I were first in residence together, then we were flat mates. Interesting times. Never a dull moment. Whenever she came to Canada we would get together, if possible. I will miss that contagious laugh, but I will cherish the memories she has left for me to guard. Rest in Peace, my dear Jane. “LET LIGHT PERPETUAL SHINE”.

  • Leidel, Sabine & Wolf-Günter says:

    Leb’ wohl, Jane; wir sehen uns wieder!

  • Justin Kielty says:

    Jane played a recital at St. Cecilia Church in SF in the 90s. She was a barrel of fun, worked hard, smoked hard, and thrilled everyone with her creative programming and limitless talent. She studied to be a concert pianist and when she had an accident that limited her hands, took up the organ, fell in love with it and the rest, as they say, is history. A brilliant performer and delightful friend.

  • Huw Griffiths says:

    A pre-concert interview that Jane Parker-Smith gave in 2012 can be heard here:

    • Jeff Havens says:

      Thank you for posting this interview! I found it very comforting, as I don’t ever want to forget Jane’s voice. Will miss her absolutely hilarious laugh, and of course, her transcendental musical gifts. God bless JPS, and may she rest in peace.

  • Roy Emerson says:

    For me Jane was so special because first of all she was a great and exciting and uncompromising musician who made the organ a MUSICAL instrument.

    What a loss!

  • John Harmar-Smith says:

    So sad to hear of Jane’s passing. I got to know her in the 1980s when I sought her permission to use one of the tracks from her recording with Maurice Andre for a BBC TV programme signature tune. Of course, she came to my Fulham home at 11am with a bottle of wine to discuss it! and on a later date, almost stopped the lunchtime canteen at Television Centre just by her uncanny similarity to Joan Collins! I once asked her if it was true that when she was due to give a recital at King’s College Cambridge, she drove off straightaway when the porter refused her permission to park on the college’s King’s Parade car park – but she denied it with a twinkle in her eye! Thank you for the joy you brought to so many of us and RIP – hopefully with her late husband, John.

  • Aaron Comins says:

    I fell in love with Jane Parker Smith as a teenager after listening to her wonderful records. As is often the case with teenagers, I acted impulsively and without tact, found her number, and brazenly called her up in England and introduced myself over the phone. I had a feeling that she might be receptive to this because great performers are sometimes the most down to earth and friendly people. She was certainly like this and was always so warm and friendly whenever I’d call. What made it even more amazing was that I was a total stranger calling unsolicited from thousands of miles away in America! I loved talking to her and had the privilege of meeting her three times: once in England, and twice when she performed in New York City. I will always cherish these memories. Jane was a major inspiration to me in wanting to learn the organ and I wish I could have gotten to know her better personally and participated in one of her masterclasses. I will miss her terribly. Her personality was just like her playing: full of excitement and energy, passion, depth and liveliness. Rest in peace my beautiful lady, I will always love you!

    Aaron Comins

  • Aaron Comins says:

    In the immortal words of pop singers Simon and Garfunkel –

    Are you going to scarborough fair? parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Remember me to one who lives there. She once was a true love of mine.

    Rest In Peace, beautiful lady Jane, I will always love you!


    Aaron Comins

  • Frank Schramm says:

    Truly an extraordinary performer. A musician who had a deep passion for her repretorie, as well as her command of instrument. Will always remember her performance at St. George’s Episcopal Church in New York City for the AGO National Convention. (2003 ?) Such confidence – with her performance and equal, her captivating her audience with her wonderful presance.

  • Jack Gore says:

    I’ll never forget the first time I heard her playing… the Guilmant ‘Lift up your Heads’ on Carlo’s huge Allen at the Alexandra Palace. Her passionate physical style at the console, the utter confidence and immaculate performance, left me shaking with emotion. Farewell, Jane, and thank you.

  • Sally French says:

    This is truly gut wrenching news. Suddenly the world has lost some of its joy.

    It was in 1977 that I first heard Janes EMI recording of Widor’s 5th symphony, that my Dad had borrowed from the local lending library. Also on it was Jongens Sonata Eroica, still the best piece of organ music I have ever heard and unrivalled in performance, even by Jane herself. It’s a great pity it was never released on CD.

    In 1979 I first saw Jane play at the Fairfield Halls Croydon, and attending her recitals in many venues followed over the next thirty years. She was always approachable and charming in person and I was lucky enough to persuade Jane to play at my wedding. It was probably the worst church organ in the world, but she made it sound amazing! There was only one condition – that I didn’t have Widors Toccata!!

    I have so many happy memories of spending time with Jane, not least the summer recital series at St Pauls Hammersmith on a Friday evening in the early 1990s, usually followed by a “session” in a nearby bistro. They were great times!

    I last saw Jane play at All Saints in Marlow back in 2007. She played Jongens Sonata Eroica, the piece that changed my life. I always hoped we would meet up again, but no more.

    Jane was a truly lovely person, so very kind hearted and generous to a fault. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for giving me an appreciation of organ music that will be lifelong.

    I would like to send my heartfelt sympathies to her family for their great loss.

    Rest in Peace Jane, and thank you, for everything, from the bottom of my heart. God bless xox

  • Huw says:

    A fabulous recital that Jane Parker-Smith gave at King’s College Cambridge Chapel in 1997 can be heard (in stereo) here:

  • Aaron Comins says:

    To My Beautiful Soulmate Jane,

    Bless your wonderful soul for giving me 40 years of joy! The three times we met were magical for me in a way that defies description! How I wish I had proposed to you when I had the opportunity when we were young. My love for you is boundless, endless, and everlasting. How I wish I had realized this sooner. My world will never be complete without you, my beloved beautiful soulmate! Aaron

  • Aaron Comins says:

    Jane Parker Smith has been a very important part of my life for 42 years and it is very hard and painful to imagine her not being with me anymore! When I was 13 years old in 1978, I bought a copy of her record of the Widor 5th symphony and two years later, her record of the Liszt “Ad Nos”. I would listen to these almost every day and analyze everything she did. I had also listened to Richard Elsasser’s Widor 5th at the Hammond Castle Museum and I liked Jane’s better! – it had much more stateliness and depth to it. By the time I was 17, I started feeling the need to get to know Jane personally. This was in 1981 and since there was no internet or social media back then, the only way I could introduce myself was directly over the phone, which I brazenly did after doing a fair amount of detective work to find her phone number! I was nervous to how she would react since this was an unsolicited call coming thousands of miles away from a total stranger in America and it felt great when she was so warm and friendly on that first call.

    We communicated off and on for about 8 years and I loved every minute that we spoke. I loved her English accent and the way she pronounced words like “”rubbish”. In 1989, I planned a trip to England and on of the highlights was to finally meet Jane in person. I went to a concert she gave and met her afterward and she looked beautiful with her dark red hair, sensitive eyes and stunning black outfit. We had a short but lovely conversation. By this time I was very much in love with her and wanted to get married but sadly, I did not have the courage to propose. The next time I would see her would be in 1996 when she performed in New York City and in 2007 at another New York concert. I treasure the lovely conversations we had at both of these.

    After returning from England and finishing school, my idealism gave way to more practical thinking: why not pursue someone who lives closer, and who was more available and accessible? Why would Jane want to be with me when she regularly came in contact with a lot of rich and influential male friends? Maybe I was just wasting my time and had my head in the clouds! When I stopped trusting my instincts, what followed was 30 years of failed relationships and dating that went nowhere. During all of these years, I always had Jane on my mind and that is probably why it was impossible to connect with anyone else! Within the last few months, I often thought of writing her to make sure she was healthy and safe during the current health crisis but sadly I didn’t when I should have realized that Jane probably would have happy to hear from me. At the 2007 concert, the first thing she said when I came back was “why didn’t you come and see me?” when she was practicing beforehand. I would have loved to be her console assistant!

    I have spent the last 30 years wondering if I would ever fall in love and have a true soulmate. I also love fast cars and in addition to music, Jane had a sharp and keenly intellectual and sharp mind. Unfortunately it was only after her tragic passing that I realized that I had met the love of my life and true soul mate 42 years ago and never fully realized it while she was alive.

    Rest in peace, my love!


  • Ian Cole says:

    I also have a long standing fond memory of Jane. I was a student in Birmingham in the mid 1970s and regularly sat in the choir seats (behind the orchestra) at CBSO concerts at the Town Hall.Tickets were only about 75p for students – those were the days! One memorable concert featured Jane P-S in Poulenc’s Organ Concerto, probably conducted by Louis Fremaux. I was sitting on the side choir seats and Jane (who was about 26 at the time) hitched up her long dress to ensure complete freedom for the foot pedals – I’d like to say I was concentrating on the Poulenc, but I have to admit it was Jane’s legs that lingered in the memory.
    Incidentally, I’m still a season ticket holder at CBSO 45 years later.

  • Gary Nilsson says:

    Very sad to hear. She was an unsurpassed master and she did not disturb the music. Her truthfulness to the composers intentions was formidable! I am glad I called her up at one time and told her in person.

  • Marc Naylor says:

    Jane and I were good friends and I had the great honour of studying with her when I completed my time at the Guildhall School of Music. She was a wonderful teacher who became a close friend.
    It is especially sad for me as Jane had agreed to come and give a recital at the Cathedral where I work in Lincoln, and we had been emailing each other regarding her requirements, dates etc.
    I am finding it very distressing not to know why she passed away or when her funeral will be.
    I shall be giving a Memorial recital for Jane next year on June 24th.
    Rest in peace, dearest Jane. You will be very missed.

    • Sally French says:

      I have just read Jane’s obituary printed in The Times, where it stated she died during surgery.

      • Aaron Comins says:

        Hi Sally,

        This makes a tragedy even more unfortunate! What kind of surgery was she having?

        Thanks for your post!
        Aaron Comins

        • Sally French says:

          I’m afraid there were no details given, but it is the only clue as to what happened.

          From the webpage linked below:

          “Jane’s family will conduct a private committal service. However, at a date still to be confirmed, there will be a Memorial Service held at All Saints, Margaret Street, London in which we plan to participate as a congregation. We will mark our service at the German Christ Church on Sunday, July 12, with a tribute to Jane.

          Jane’s family has requested that no flowers be sent. Instead, donations would be welcome to a charity which will be set up in Jane’s name. The charity will aim to inspire young people to play the organ (as soon as further details are known, we will publish them here).”

          Maybe the Memorial service will be available online?

          • Aaron Comins says:

            Hi Sally,

            Thanks for the info! I hope to come to the memorial from New York City if travelling is safe.

            All The Best!,

    • Aaron Comins says:

      Hi Marc,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with Jane. I was hoping to reconnect with her when it was safe to travel and have some lessons on the Romantic repertoire. How did she approach her students? I regret never being able to participate in one of her masterclasses when she came to America. I would appreciate it if you could let me know when the funeral is going to be. I have been absolutely devastated and need to pay my last respects and hopefully play something in her honor. If the date of the funeral is close to your memorial recital I would also like to come to the concert. Here is my E – Mail address-
      JPS forever!

      Aaron Comins

  • Dr John Camron says:

    She was fabulous – mad as a hatter when diving her Lotus and not much slower on the organ!

    “The floo’rs o’ the forest are a’ wede awa”.

  • Robin Hull says:

    I have many happy memories of seeing Jane perform at the RFH Wednesday evening series of long ago. On one memorable occasion, her page turner/registrant pulled a stop at the wrong time and Jane’s hand shot out like lightening, between notes, to punch it back in. The poor girl looked as though she wished the ground would swallow her up. The RFH stage must be a very lonely place, without an orchestra to fill it.

  • Anne Bonnet says:

    Am so late in learning of this terribly sad news. I will never forget Jane’s amazing performance at the Royal Festival Hall in 1975 when she stood in at the last minute for the ailing Fernando Germani. I went with my Dad, a great organ fan. I was the same age as Jane, 25 years old. Her lovely dress with a long train spread out on the floor behind her. Her last piece was Duruflé’s Suite ,opus 5, III , toccata and needless to say she had a standing ovation! So impressive. Many years later, living in France, I had the privilege of meeting Marie-Madeleine Chevalier, Maurice Duruflé’s widow, herself a well known & accomplished organist and told her about Jane’s performance. I will never forget these wonderful & privileged moments. Thank you Jane. Rest in Peace.