Smalls, “Cliff” Clifton (1918-2008)

Pianist, trombonist, composer and conductor for six decades; born in Charleston, attended Burke High School, and lived in a neighborhood of Charlston known as “Back the Green”; his father, Edward Smalls, a Charleston carpenter and musician, taught Smalls classical music at a young age – his father played the organ and piano for Charleston’s Central Baptist Church, and brothers Archie and Edward Smalls, Jr. were also musicians; while in high school, he joined the Carolina Cotton Pickers and toured extensively with the band – probable personnel during his tenure were Cat Anderson, John Williams, and Thad Seabrook, and Joseph Williams on trumpet; Leroy Hardeson and Eugene Earle on trombone; Booker Starks, Lew Williams, Addison White, and Aaron Harvey on saxophones; Cliff Smalls (piano); W.J. Edwards (guitar); Len Thurman (bass); and Otis Walker (drums); studied piano, music theory and composition at Kansas City Conservatory; in a unique doubling position, he played trombone and was the relief piano player with Earl “Fatha” Hines (1942-46); played/recorded with Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra in Detroit, Billy Eckstine, Louis Jordan, Earl Bostic, Bennie Green, Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, Lucky Millinder, and Cab Calloway; served as music director/arranger for Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Sy Oliver, Sammy Davis, Jr., Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Clyde McPhatter and Brook Benton (late 1950s-mid-1960s); his discography includes Ella Fitzgerald: Newport Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall and A Portrait of Julian Dash with Charlestonian, St. Julian Bennett Dash, among others; his solo album, The Man I Love was recorded in 1979; led the Cliff Smalls Septet in Brooklyn utilizing young jazz musicians along with seasoned regulars until his health declined.

Image Gallery

Selected Albums


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