The Los Angeles Times reported his passing and added that the man had worked with "such greats as Bing Crosby, Nat 'King' Cole and Dizzy Gillespie...Smith began studying classical piano when he was 8 and joined a professional band in his teens. Over a long career, he recorded more than five dozen albums with his own groups and accompanied many performers, including Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day and the Andrews Sisters. Smith also arranged and performed TV and movie scores as a studio musician. He spent more than 25 years as pianist and music director for The Steve Allen Comedy Hour."
Nearly 60 years ago, Paul Smith who contrasted his size (six-foot-four, over two hundred pounds) with an "extremely deft and delicate touch at the piano," was introduced in the liner notes of one of his early recordings as "a brilliant young pianist who plays classics, 'pop' tunes, and modern jazz with equal facility, and as a result is one most sought after studio musicians in Hollywood. In past years he's been both performer and arranger with leading dance bands and musical groups throughout the country."
|Paul Smith, 1950s|
"His style defies neat labeling, for its appeal is too far broad to be marked 'modern jazz' or 'cocktail music' or 'music for just listening.' It is all of these."
In another liner note from the 1950s his polish up of jazz standards is described as a work totally dedicated to swing: "swing is the keynote...swing with a light, bubbling effervescence."
In 1991, James Rozzi gave a more detailed portrait of Paul Smith as a jazz musician:
Born April 17, 1922 in San Diego, California to musician parents who made their living performing in vaudeville, Paul Smith’s ﬁrst professional job was with Johnny Richards at the age of nineteen.
He played with Ozzie Nelson in 1942, then spent two years in a Long Beach-based army band under Sargent Ziggy Elman. Apparently, those in command felt that Smith’s six-foot, ﬁve-inch frame could better serve as a member of the military police, so it was off to Germany for several years, serving both as M.P. and later with the 106th Division band.
Upon his return to the States, an audition landed him a job in the Les Paul trio for two years, playing some of the swankier casuals in the Hollywood area. 1947 found him accompanying the Andrews Sisters, then with the Tommy Dorsey Band through all of 1948. In 1949, he and his wife settled in Hollywood, where Smith became a staff pianist for Warner Brothers and NBC. The classical side of Smith’s playing is ubiquitous, and it’s no surprise that he lists Vladimir Horowitz as prominent an inﬂuence as Nat "King" Cole, Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson.
Following several trio and quartet recordings for Albert Marx’s Discovery label and Gene Norman’s GNP label in 1949, 50 and 51, Smith was approached by Robert Scherman (whose previous claims to fame included producing several early Nat "King" Cole and Wynonie Harris sessions for Atlas and King-Federal, respectively) to record the very ﬁrst LP for his Skylark label.
Paul Smith remembers the approach to this session being as simple as, “Pick as many good tunes as you can, make some decent arrangements on them, and record them.”
Paul Smith’s command of the piano cannot be disputed. His improvisations, which would normally be regarded as fabulous displays of technique if played as single melodic lines, are at times enhanced by octave doubling with equal ﬂuidity. His harmonic sense, though not particularly adventuresome, shows solid, knowledgeable direction.
[After this Skylark session] Smith went on to record ﬁve albums for Capitol. The ﬁrst, entitled Liquid Sounds, is now described by Smith as being “a semi-hit record, sounding like a little Bach group.” Later years found him in the studio and on tour as the most memorable and compatible of Ella Fitzgerald’s accompanists.
Following many ﬁne LPs for Imperial, Verve, MGM and Warner Brothers, Smith recorded no fewer than twelve trio, duo and solo LPs for the Outstanding label during the 1970s and 80s. “I've got more records out for an unknown than anybody," he remarks good-naturally.
As a tribute to Paul Smith, I've digitized one of those "for an unknown" recordings that you can listen to down here.
The album is called Intensive Care from 1978 for which Smith is accompanied by Ray Brown (bass) and Louie Bellson (drums). It's been recorded in Hollywood on March 17 and 18, 1978. The label is the Discwasher Recordings (DR 001 DD) and it's been out of print for ages. However a copy is available on Amazon for $249.95!
Rest in peace Paul Smith.
THE LADY IS A TRAMP
EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME
ON A CLEAR DAY
SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP
MY HEART STOOD STILL
TOTAL TIME 34:21