Norman Simmons

October 6, 1929 – May 13, 2021

Instrument piano
Birthplace Chicago, IL

Available Leadsheets

Accomplished soloist, accompanist, composer and educator, Norman Simmons is well known as a pianist with an great ability to connect with jazz singers. Born in Chicago, Simmons taught himself piano and at age sixteen enrolled in the Chicago School of Music. He formed his own group in 1949 and began recording in 1952 when he worked as a house pianist for Chicago clubs The BeeHive and the C&C Lounge. During this period, his first recordings were under the leadership of tenor saxophonists Claude McLin, Paul Bascomb and Coleman Hawkins.

In the late 1950s Simmons became a greatly sought-after accompanist, working with the likes of singers Dakota Staton, Ernestine Anderson, Anita O'Day, Betty Carter, and with Carmen McRae for nine years. In 1979 he began his long- standing collaboration with vocalist Joe Williams that lasted well into the 1990s.

In 1960, Norman worked with the Johnny Griffin-Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis group, and he composed and arranged two important Riverside albums for Johnny Griffin: "The Little Giant" (1959) and "The Big Soul Band" (1960). He then wrote for and recorded the Prestige "Battle Stations" album with the Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis-Johnny Griffin quintet. In late 2010, Norman produced and performed in a celebration of the 1960 Big Soul Band recording at the Jazz Standard night club, NYC.

A prolific composer and lyricist, he recorded ten albums as a leader. He taught and worked in New Jersey, focusing especially on passing on the vocal and performing techniques he learned from the master singers he worked with over the years, and also helping rhythm sections learn to accompany vocalists with grace and skill.

Norman spent many hours at the studio, going over his music with Don Sickler, and teaching employees and interns valuable performing skills. Luckily we videotaped many of these sessions, and will make them public in coming months.

Norman passed on May 13, 2021.