Jazz Pianist Paul Smith Dies at 91

Composer and arranger had long association with Ella Fitzgerald

Paul Smith, a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and conductor for such stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney and Anita O’Day, died of heart failure June 29 at Torrance Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles.  He was 91 and still performing, frequently appearing at the Terranea Resort near his home on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Smith was born in San Diego and started playing piano at the age of eight. He formed his first band while in high school, began his professional career in 1941 with the Johnny Richards band and became a member of the Les Paul Trio in 1946.  He was pianist-arranger for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra from 1947-48 and moved to Hollywood in 1949, where he began recording with arranger-conductors such asas Paul Weston and Billy May.

He worked as a staff pianist for Warner Brothers Studios (playing on numerous film soundtracks), and spent over a decade at NBC, arranging, conducting and playing on hundreds of radio and TV broadcasts, including eight years with the “Dinah Shore Show” and more than 25 years with Steve Allen.

Smith recorded nearly 60 solo albums under his own name, more than half of which are still in print, and accompanied Ella Fitzgerald both on recordings and on tour from 1956 to 1978. He also played and recorded with musicians including Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Nat King Cole, Tony Martin, Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, Pat Boone, and Gordon MacRae.

Smith was still active and was scheduled to perform with his wife of 54 years, singer-pianist Annette Warren, at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood on July 17.  Married in 1958, they had recorded several albums together, including “His and Hers” for Capitol Records.

Smith is survived by his daughter, actress Lauri Johnson, and sons Gary and Paul, as well as eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

More Music

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Woodstock 50's Latest Plea Denied by

    Woodstock 50's Latest Plea Denied Unanimously by Town of Vernon

    UPDATED: The light is quickly fading on Woodstock 50, which in its latest plea to the town of Vernon, New York, was rejected in its effort to secure a permit to hold the three-day concert at Vernon Downs. The Syracuse area venue with a capacity of 35,000 was the most recent proposed site for the [...]

  • Beyonce-HOMECOMING-Netflix

    Beyoncé, Sara Bareilles Vie for First Emmys as Ramin Djawadi Looks to Reclaim Throne

    Beyoncé and Sara Bareilles could add Emmy trophies to their awards shelves this year, having been nominated in key music categories Tuesday by the Television Academy. Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” special on Netflix was nominated in six categories, and four of those include a nod for the pop superstar herself. Only one of those is in a [...]

  • LiveXLive Names AOL and MTV Vet

    LiveXLive Names AOL and MTV Vet Dermot McCormack President

    Live entertainment digital media company LiveXLive Media today announced that AOL and MTV veteran Dermot McCormack has been named president of the company. According to the announcement, McCormack will lead the business and creative operations of LiveXLive, effective immediately. McCormack previously served as AOL’s Global President of Video and Studios, where he oversaw the video [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • R Kelly Sexual Assult Accusations Mugshot

    R. Kelly Ordered Held Without Bail

    R. Kelly has been ordered held without bond at a hearing Tuesday in federal court in Chicago, according to the Chicago Sun Times. The singer entered a not-guilty plea. The hearing, which follows the singer being hit Friday with a total of 18 counts of serious sexual misconduct and other charges in Chicago and New York, [...]

  • Sir Elton John, David Furnish. Sir

    New Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala to be Held in the South of France

    Elton John and David Furnish are launching a new gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two will host the inaugural A Midsummer Party benefit on July 24 in the south of France at the Johnny Pigozzi’s private estate, Villa Dorane, in Cap d’Antibes. A cocktail reception will be followed by dinner, a live [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content