Brian Smith

Died 12th June 2013

Photograph by Mike Farmer

12/06/13 -

The writer of "KEEPER OF THE FLAME", Bill Birch, has just passed on the sad news that Brian Smith died today (12th June), after many months of struggle breathing, He had contracted emphysema, and died of heart failure. Towards the close of 2012, Brian had to leave the last band he was with, at Cheadle Hulme Conservative Club, before the evening's entertainment was over. Since then, he had been in and out of hospital, more lately he was at home. According to Bill Birch, who was informed by Julian Cowan (an old trumpeter colleague of Brian's), the family have already allocated a date for the funeral arrangements at Stockport Crematorium - Monday, 24th June - but the time is yet to be decided with the funeral directors.

Brian was one of those extremely versatile and inventive musicians on the Manchester Jazz scene, whose musicianship spanned and transcended many styles and barriers. In an instant, he could be just as easily at home playing with Ged Hone and classic New Orleans numbers, as he was switching to Modern Jazz or Mainstream with the likes of the late Joe Palin, Alan Hare, Johnny Rotherham, Eric Ferguson, and indeed Maynard Ferguson - when that great bandleader did his stint in Manchester in the 1960s - escaping the demands of America's Internal Revenue Service. Brian was a great reader, highly experienced from working with many local big-bands, as well as the Gordon Robinson-led small combos, largely based at John Beeley's Bamboo Restaurant in Hazel Grove. That was the band that did the Manchester Jazz scene proud, winning highly coveted Jazz awards in Switzerland. 

However, weaned on Traditional Jazz, before he became a modernist/generalist player, he also had an exceptional ear. Most of us on the scene heard him on clarinet and soprano sax as well as tenor and flute, over the decades. As far as I can recall, he wasn't shunned by traditional bands because of his modernist influences. Instead, as I recall, he was equally welcome and popular in all three principal genres of Jazz locally, very much on a par with John Halham. And that has to be praise indeed, from a fellow multi-reedman!  I remember some great sessions with him in Eric Brierley's "Ancients" and "Moderns" at Hayfield in the beginning of the Millennium. We played together infrequently, but when we did I certainly enjoyed it; I hope he did!

The band that Brian had to leave only at the end of 2012, due to the severity of his illness, was the former Paul Cheffings Band, at Cheadle Hulme Conservative Club. This outfit featured some great local stars, including of course, Brian himself: Dave Browning (tpt), Gordon Robinson (tbn), Paul Cheffings originally, replaced after his sad death, by Nigel Cretney (dms), Steve Moore/Vinny Parker (kbds), Dave Turner (db). John Hargreaves, backed by the above, provided/provides an excellent performance of the music of Frank Sinatra. Therefore, Brian was always - and up to his sad end - playing with greats who befitted his own greatness. The venue is now run by Graham Brooke. 

This is all I will say on Brian, because I know that others are better equipped to wax more eruditely on Brian Smith, since they were much closer to him than I was. What I will say, though, in closing, on behalf of all of us on the Manchester Jazz Scene, and on behalf of yourself, Fred - and your indispensable site - is that we all have his Wife, Pam, and family, in our thoughts and prayers at this very sad time.    

God bless you Brian. May your soul rest in peace always.
Joe A A Silmon-Monerri

13/06/13 -

A sad day for all of us to hear about Brian Smith. I worked with Brian over the years in Duo's /Trio / Quartet's etc .Brian was a great musician (as we all know)--never turned a tune down---great musical ears---a great musician's sense of humour--and always a joy for me to be part of a band with Brian. One of the best musician's on the jazz scene. Many fond memories. A sad day.

Mike Dexter

13/06/13 -

When we were children the Smith family lived in Edgeley about 100 yards away from my house. Their dog "China" was a neighbourhood institution.

I could see their house from our back garden, and could hear Brian practicing his tenor sax. He was a few years older than me, so I knew his younger brothers better. In those days we played those street games that have all but disappeared, along with the rhymes that went with them. The cricket wickets were stuck in manhole covers, and every now and then we would have to uproot them to let a car pass. Now the street is choc a bloc with cars parked on both sides.

I got to know him better when I sat in on guitar at some of those mainstream/modern jam sessions at the Bamboo Club. I recall that he really loved Dexter Gordon's playing.

Tony West

13/06/13 -

Very sad news to read that Brian Smith has passed on. I used to love to sing with him when I had the chance. He lifted me with his music. Please send my deepest sympathy to Pam and family.

With best wishes, Sheila Collier

13/06/13 -

The death of Brian Smith is another great loss to the Jazz Scene - I was privileged to play a Christmas duo gig with him and it made my Christmas. Please pass on my sympathies to his wife and family.

Malcolm Hogarth

13/06/13 -

I'm very sad to hear about Brian. I know he'd been ill for a while. I've been fortunate to do a few gigs with him over the years. He was a very kind man and a fantastic musician.

Laurie Cooper.

13/06/13 -

I can't remember when I first heard Brian Smith, but what impressed me most was the great sound he produced on both tenor and soprano sax. I saw him in many bands over the years and he fitted in with all styles without altering his distinctive way of playing. He was a big fan of Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons and I will miss him a lot. I believe the time of the funeral is 1pm. Monday 24th June.

Mike Farmer.

14/06/13 -

I was very sorry to hear of Brian Smith's death. John Gordon, Brian and I had worked together, usually in trios or quartets, fairly often over the last twenty years. Brian (on tenor and soprano saxophones) played quite regularly with Gypsy Jazz at The Prince of Orange (Ashton) and about once a month for nearly ten years at Blackrod with Café Olé. We had also done a number of private functions together, but I last saw him at Wilmslow (Graham Brook's jazz night) 2 to 3 years ago, and hadn't realised he had subsequently been ill.

Brian was free from any stylistic prejudices. He seemed able to handle (and enjoy) all varieties of jazz, merely hoping that we were making good music (and good jazz). He resembled a kind of musical iceberg - what you heard above the surface was imposing enough, but below there was a vast amount of musical knowledge and experience, doubtless gained during many years of reading and busking. He was fazed by neither a tune nor a key: you fed him a start note and off he went, producing harmonically accurate and imaginative lines. It was fun to play with Brian, as he was always easy-going and humorous, and you could sense real affection between him and his fellow musicians.

Meryl and I will miss him, and send our condolences to Pam and the family. We will be on holiday on 24th June and unable to attend the funeral: could others convey our apologies and sorrow?

John Muskett

14/06/13 -

This is such sad news about Brian Smith. I'd known Brian since I was in my teens. We met up at Bredbury Hall when I was in the habit of sitting in with the resident quartet. So I got the opportunity to blow with the great, introvert, superb musician Brian Smith. Later I occasionally depped with the Gordon Robinson Septet at the 'Bamboo' in Hazel Grove for the tragic and highly talented Doug Whalley. We came across each other once again with the Alan Hare Big Band where Smiffy blew up his usual storm.

I know the regular tenor sax players down there were Julius Hasford and Jimmy Barnes but Brian appeared quite regularly with the band. When I went 'pro' in 1970 I used to spend my Sunday nights off from my chores at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool at the 'Railway' in Whaley Bridge where Brian was frequently featured with Keith and Marcia Pendlebury's trio. From the brain-deadness of Olde Tyme Waltzes and Mayfair Quicksteps I kept my sanity thanks to that release from musical wallpaper.

Pity the tinny recordings made on my tape machine don't survive. Smiffy and I didn't just blow up a storm, we blew up a hurricane. How the heck we both drove home afterwards still astonishes me.

The last time I saw Brian was in Hayfield where he was playing with a quartet which included Nigel Cretney. Brian told me to "Play tunes in sharp keys Ian - they have more impact". Interesting advice. Smiffy was unique - a brilliant unsung 'one-off' on the tenor saxophone and a super guy.

RIP Smiffy.
Ian Royle


Terrible news about Brian Smith. I played with him for the last 12 months of The Red River Jazzmen's existence. Although towards the end the band was only a shadow of its former self Smiffy always made my night. His solid booting playing was a joy to play behind. In the 70's I played with Vinny Gorton's trio at The Bridge in Bury, and Brian was there most weeks. I remember one memorable night, there was Brian Smith, Brian Crowther and Norman Brown, probably three of the best musicians in the N. W. We played " My Funny Valentine " and 40 yrs. later I can still remember it.

Brian played as well as any tenor player I've ever heard. I liked his sense of humour and we had many a laugh. He had a broad range of interests and we often got involved discussing WW2!   Brian was the sort of musician who belonged to that group of musicians that is getting constantly smaller, accomplished, broadminded and versatile.

Bye Smiffy.
Moe Green.

17/06/13 -

How sad to hear of Brian Smith’s death. I had the privilege of working with him on and off for 30 years. He could play any style of jazz and enjoyed playing any style. He endeared me to him by often telling me that I played just like Earl Hines. My sincere condolences to Pam and the rest of his family.

Barrie Quilliam

19/06/13 -

My computer has been down again for several weeks, so have only just read about Brian's death. He was a lovable, gently humorous man and a great musician. I had known him for several years playing with Pete Cotterill's Giants of Jazz in Alsager, along with Terry Brunt, Frank Slater, Laurie Cooper, Mike Byrne, Don Wright & many others. It was always a special pleasure to chat with him, and hear him play. A sad loss to the North West's jazz scene. I will miss him.


19/06/13 -

I first heard Brian when I was learning as a teenager and at that time he helped me tremendously. He had endless patience in explaining who to listen to and what to practice. 50 years on I still remember his words of wisdom. Over the years we played together many times and had some really memorable sessions. He had a very dry and understated sense of humour, which I think many musicians will remember. Although only playing the saxophone, his main instrument was the tenor, of which he was a master in creating his own distinctive sound, (that rare quality which we all wish for). In later years he branched out to the soprano and put his own stamp on it. When playing with Brian, there was always that special magic that can never be replaced.

My thoughts are with Pam and the family at this sad time.

John Hallam

21/06/13 -

Very sad to hear about Brian Smith. I was privileged to be on some of Brian's gigs over the years, and what a wonderful reeds player he was.  I found him to be a kind and understanding person, and my sympathies go out to his wife and family.

Mike Carnie

21/06/13 -

I first heard Brian Smith playing with the Gordon Robinson and Alan Hare bands around the late 50s - early 60s time. His sound, dexterity and authority just knocked me out. Although my jazz tastes were always catholic I was playing a more traditional style so I didn't get to play with him until maybe 10 years later. It was a great privilege to play with him and I loved his wickedly sardonic sense of humour.

Once or twice we tried to put groups together, never with much success but we often met on gigs. We began to play together more regularly on the Sundays afternoons in Hayfield and when my Sunday "Ancient and Modern" sessions started Brian played the alternate, modernish week. That ran for about 16 years until 2004. I last played with him at Wilmslow Conservative Club, a Graham Brooke promotion and still had that feeling or being privileged - in fact - over-privileged.

Eric Brierley.

Brian Smith plays - "With A Song In My Heart", video by Ian Brown

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