Remembering Norman Simmons

October 6, 1929 – May 13, 2021

 

A tribute to the tasteful jazz pianist

Pianist Norman Simmons passed away on May 13, 2021, at the age of 91.

He was born in Chicago on Oct. 6, 1929, picked out songs on the piano as a child by ear, and considered Duke Ellington to be his main influence.

During the first half of the 1950s, Simmons was the house pianist at the Beehive Lounge in Chicago where he worked with Wardell Gray, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker (Feb. 1955).

He recorded his first album as a leader in 1956, moved to New York in the late 1950s, and worked extensively as an accompanist and arranger for singers including with Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, Anita O’Day, Helen Humes, Joe Williams, Dakota Staton, Etta Jones, Carol Sloane, and Mark Murphy.

Simmons also recorded with Roy Eldridge, Johnny Griffin, Red Holloway, Scott Hamilton, and Clifford Jordan, wrote the arrangement for Ramsey Lewis’ 1966 hit recording of “Wade In The Water,” and led nine albums of his own during 1976-2004.

Here is the Norman Simmons Trio (with bassist Marlene Rosenberg and drummer Gregory Artry) at the 2016 Chicago Jazz Festival, performing a tribute to George Gershwin.

-Scott Yanow

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