Tony Lee (pianist)

Last updated
Tony Lee
Birth nameAnthony Leedham Lee
Born(1934-07-23)23 July 1934
Whitechapel, London, England
Died2 March 2004(2004-03-02) (aged 69)
Esher, Surrey
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Piano
Years active1950s-2004
Associated acts Phil Seamen
The Tony Lee Trio

Tony Lee (born Anthony Leedham Lee; 23 July 1934 2 March 2004) was a British jazz pianist, who played with Tommy Whittle, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, Barney Kessel, Sonny Stitt, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Terry Smith, Tubby Hayes, Dick Morrissey and the drummer Phil Seamen.



Lee was born in Whitechapel, London. His father was a singer. He learned the rudiments of the piano from his elder brother, Arthur, who was self-taught and preferred to use the black keys rather than the white. [1] As a consequence, he became fluent in keys such as G flat and B natural, before moving on to more standard keys, leaving him with the ability to transpose effortlessly his entire repertoire into any key. He played as a regular for many years with a trio comprising bassist Tony Archer and drummer Martin Drew or Terry Jenkins at The Bull's Head in Barnes, London, a few miles from his home in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey.

During a visit by the former Count Basie tenor-saxophonist Billy Mitchell who came to play at the Bull's Head, both Mitchell and Lee got on so well together that the Bull's Dan Fleming organised for both of them to tour in the US in 1984. Fleming said at the time, "Lee could bring out the best in everybody and he drew you into the music."

Despite his sketchy knowledge of musical theory, he was a complete master of his instrument, and blessed with large hands, (he could stretch an 11th with ease), his solos ranged from effortless large block chords to delicate single note figures, all played in a lyrical style, and swinging like a garden gate. He was arguably the greatest British exponent of the Erroll Garner piano style, though his playing embraced a much wider compass.

He appeared on at least two recordings with Seamen - Phil Seamen Now! . . . Live! (1968) and on Phil Seamen Meets Eddie Gomez (1968), a live recording featuring US bassist Eddie Gómez. His solo debut, Electric Piano (1971), earned many comparisons to the works of Burt Bacharach. He made at least four other LPs, including Tony Lee Trio (British Jazz Artists Vol. 1), probably the quintessential album of his career (1976), Street of Dreams (1979), Hey There (1992) and The Tony Lee Trio Live at the Station (2002), prior to his death from cancer in 2004. [2] [3]

He had a long-lasting association of some 40 years with bassist Tony Archer in the Tony Lee Trio. Lee and Archer also played together in the sextet The Best of British Jazz formed in the early 1970s with Jack Parnell (drums), Kenny Baker (trumpet), Don Lusher (trombone) and Betty Smith (tenor sax). The sextet recorded two albums - The Best of British Jazz and The Very Best of British Jazz.

As with many pianists from the 1950s and 1960s Lee was influenced by Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum.

Personal life and death

Lee died on 2 March, 2004 in Esher, Surrey. He is survived by his wife Olga and one stepson.

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  1. Tony Lee Obituary
  2. "Tony Lee". The Independent . 15 March 2004. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
  3. Vacher, Peter (26 April 2004). "Obituary: Tony Lee". Retrieved 8 August 2020.