Artistry of… Paul Smith

AO Paul Smith

Sensitivity—the way a gentleman would play the piano. His playing laid down a template for many who followed and many who were as inspired by him. He was a giant, literally. He stood somewhere around six foot five and could span the interval of a 12th on the keyboard. That’s a lot of creative playing room under one hand—a gentle giant of the keyboard. In many ways his career was very much that of a truly selfless gentle giant. His expert accompaniment and interpretations of popular song performances of, and by, the giants of jazz had him in their shadows but made their shining so much brighter!

He was described as nimble and harmonically inventive. Stuart Nicholson, biographer of Ella Fitzgerald, said Smith had “the imagination to complement rather than complicate.” This quote of Smith says it all: “To me, piano is fun and games.” He often interjected humorous musical asides and jokes in his improvised solos. And in his words: “I figure one good laugh is worth 1,000 good choruses. And if I get that one laugh, then maybe they’ll listen to the 1,000 choruses.”

The Great American Songbook and American popular song never had it so good. The pleasure of the artistry is all ours.