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In Memoriam: Jazz Pianist Sarney Norman Simmons, 91

Frank Hammel • News • May 13, 2021

Sarney Norman Simmons

Jazz pianist Sarney Norman Simmons, one of the last musicians to have performed with Charlie Parker at the famed Beehive Jazz Club in Chicago, died May 13, 2021. He was 91. 

More details:

 The Great Sarney Norman Simmons

Chicago born Jazz pianist, composer, accompanist, arranger, educator, author, thought provocateur and icon has transitioned at the age of 91. 

 We who love and cherish Norman Simmons gather in a consciousness of gratitude to have known this great man who lived his life by his own terms as an artist. 

 As a bandleader, Norman made significant recordings and started Milljac Publishing Company. His recordings as a leader are: Norman Simmons Trio (Argo, 1956), Ramira The Dancer (Spotlite, 1976), Midnight Creeper (Milljac, 1979), I’m The Blues (Milljac 1981), 13TH Moon (Milljac 1986), The Heat and The Sweet (Milljac, 1987), The Art of Norman Simmons (Savant, 2000), and with Eric Alexander, Manha De Carnaval (Soundhills, Japan) 2002.

 Norman accompanied Jazz icons Betty Carter, Carmen McRae, Ernestine Anderson (who raised him on the road), Anita O’Day (who gave him marquee billing) and Joe Williams (who elevated Norman’s status), Etta Jones, Carrie Smith among many others. 

 Among the last musicians to have performed with Charlie Parker at the famed Beehive Jazz Club in Chicago, Norman mentored, played piano, arranged, accompanied and guided several bands and musicians. They include Houston Person, Henry Johnson, Johnny Griffin’s Big Soul Band, Winard Harper & Jeli Posse, Joe Farnsworth, The Duke Ellington Legacy Band under the direction of Edward Ellington and Virginia Mayhew and The Norman Simmons Group which included his longtime loyal partners Paul West and domestic partner Sheila Earley, Lisle Atkinson, Al Harewood and Vernel Fournier,  whom with Norman worked out amazing rhythms later used in Vernel’s recording of Poinciana. Some of Norman’s music is held with Don Sickler’s by Second Floor Music, BMI, and other publishing houses. 

Current vocalists who perform, record, and sing from Norman Simmons vast Songbook include Cynthia Scott, Melissa Walker, Kate Baker, Antoinette Montague, Karen Frances, Nancy Reed, Kameelah Harper, Gillian Margot and Shoko Amano. They proudly pick up Norman’s musical spear and speak his name reverently as they continue in the artistic life.

 As Norman would encourage each of us at the end of a lengthy, complex conversation, “Straight Ahead.” During this incredible season, may we all be uplifted and blessed.

Submitted with light and love on behalf of Norman Simmons family of choice, friends, musicians, singers, fans, community of Jazz, neighbors, and the sparkling universe. We pray that Norman’s spirit will realize his beliefs about the next chapter. 

 Norman Simmons lives in our hearts. We urge you to check out his rich musical inheritance. We honor his powerful request for no funeral or memorials. However, consider a collective moment of silence on Sunday, May 16 at noon wherever you may be. 

 Contributions in Norman Simmons’ honor may be made to the Norman Simmons Foundation, near to Normans heart, Jazz House Kids, Jazzmobile and or The Jazz Foundation of America.

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