Shirley Smart – The Musician’s Playlist

by Sep 23, 2022Playlist

Cellist Shirley Smart, has long been recognised as one of the most creative and original musicians in the UK. Her work encompasses classical music, improvisation, jazz and a love for the music of the Middle East, spending ten years living, working and studying in Jerusalem.

Shirley is always proactive, and as well as devoting much time to working in education where she is Head of Performance and a Lecturer in Music at City University, she also leads her own Trio with pianist John Crawford and and Demi Garcia Sabat on drums.

In addition the cellist has been making her presence felt with an highly impressive partnership with saxophonist James Arben, and retaining the duo format with pianist, Robert Mitchell on the outstanding Zeitgeist2 which has recently been released on the Discus Music imprint.

SONNY ROLLINS – Saxophone Colossus

This was the first full jazz album that I ever heard, and it really stuck with me for its richness of tradition and originality in both the composition and improvisation on tunes like Blue 7 and Strode Rode, and both the emotional and logical power in the solo on St. Thomas.


I love Wynton Kelly, he has absolutely everything – power, grace and delicacy whilst swinging like the proverbial mofo! I really love his clarity in building solos as well, there’s always a development that builds as releases tension so effectively and constantly surprises and delights the listener (well, this one anyway!) and this is one of my favourite of his albums.

The performance of ‘Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise actually demonstrates this really well, I think on this album. I’ve always really loved the first tune, a sextet composition ‘Kelly Blue’, and this tune served as an inspiration for my first sextet tune Nuba Blues Maroc, which hopefully along with the rest of the tunes that came along after it, I’ll record this year with my sextet!


Mustafa Zadeh is an Azerbaijani pianist, composer and singer and I was blown away when I first heard this album with John Patitucci on bass and Dave Weckl on drums. The compositions and performance are so vibrant and exciting, and I keep returning to it!!

OMER AVITAL – New York Paradox/New Song

OK, so technically this is two albums, but I can’t decide between them, so you can have both!! I really love the balance of elements that Omer Avital achieves in bringing together jazz and Middle Eastern traditions, which he does as a result of a very deeply rooted practical knowledge of both worlds. He is a first-rate ‘straight ahead’ jazz musician, well known on the New York scene, as well as a very fine oud player, which he spent 3 years back in his native Israel learning.

I spent a long time living in Jerusalem, which is basically where I really had the chance to develop my interest in jazz. At the same time, though, a lot of my musical activity centred around the North African, Turkish and Arabic music indigenous to the region. Many jazz musicians were also involved in those projects – including Avital, who was in the same North African band that I played with for a while, so it is hardly surprising that for me these two worlds are very experientially entwined.

I love all of his albums, but these two are probably my favourites, followed by ‘The Ancient Art of Giving’, ‘Suite of The East’ and ‘Think with Your Heart’. There’s a fabulous arrangement of ‘Stella by Starlight’ on the latter album which I think is great. The harmonic complexity of Stella makes it, to my mind one that is least inviting to the kind of more modal approach that Middle Eastern traditions generally suggest, but he explores ambient lines and collapses the vertical aspect of the harmony into swirling textural lines that it works brilliantly. Highly recommend checking it out!

OMER KLEIN – Introducing Omer Klein

Klein is another Israeli musician who brings together Middle Eastern and jazz worlds, but through the very different medium of the piano trio as opposed to the pianoless sextet and horn-led quintet of Avital. He does this really effectively by using Middle Eastern percussion as well as kit drums, focussing the piano writing melodically, and highlighting both the groove and the subtlety of Middle Eastern rhythm.

The tune ‘Oud Song’ evokes the ornamental aspect of this instrument beautifully in the writing as well. It’s a lovely album with, again, a very finely tuned balance of elements that makes it most definitely a jazz album, but one with a deep Middle Eastern sympathy, and knowledge of the traditions upon which it draws.

RICHARD GALLIANO- Tangaria Quartet

Following the French theme from the previous album, Galliano is French-Italian accordionist and composer whose music is a wonderful development of jazz on the instrument, and often incorporates vernacular traditions such as tango, musettes, and choro.

This is particularly the case on this album, for quartet, which is one of my favourites. I think the combination of accordion and violin (or cello!) works really well, and the acoustic folk-jazz scenario is one that I find really rich in influences and instrumental colours. The accordion has become quite a standard instrument in jazz in France, in a way that it isn’t quite in the UK, despite there being some very fine players here as well.

DIDIER LOCKWOOD – Tribute to Stéphane Grappelli

Didier Lockwood is the greatest jazz violinist, in my humble opinion. I love his sound, no-one gets a more beautiful tone with such clarity out of the instrument, and his mastery of both violin technique and jazz language is complete. He’s also always a really tasteful player, and every note he plays just oozes musicianship. Sadly, he died very suddenly in 2018, at the early age of 62, so we only have the relatively few recordings he made as a legacy, but it’s a good one.

This album is a tribute to one of the earliest musicians to really develop the instrument in jazz – Stéphane Grappelli. The versions of Beautiful Love and Someday My Prince Will Come are beautiful, and I also really love the Lockwood original ‘Barbizon Blues’


Renaud Garcia Fonds is another contemporary French musician, but this time with a Catalonian heritage. He is a ridiculous bass player, and this album explores again Oriental influences, but in a rather more European centred concept of jazz than that of Avital, for example, whose conception is definitely rooted in NYC.

The performance on the first track ‘Oriental Bass’ features a long mawwal-like solo by Garcia Fonds, as well as some really melodic playing – I think he might have forgotten he’s actually a bass player!!! I’ve also heard him play some ridiculous swing solos on gypsy jazz tunes on one of his other albums, so this album is a particular thematic exploration in his output, and one that is well worth a listen!

ANOUR BRAHEM – The Astounding Eyes of Rita

Anouar Brahem is a Tunisian oud player, who was perhaps one of the first musicians to make a significant impact on the European ‘world music’ scene. He records for ECM, and this recording sound seems to particularly suit his music and the instrument, I think.

My favourite of Brahem’s recordings are the early ones with his quartet, featuring Jan Garbarek. He did record an album which was clearly a foray in the world of modern jazz entitled ‘Blue Maqams’ released in 2017 with Django Bates on piano, Dave Holland on bass and Jack deJohnette on drums, all of whom are superb musicians and played beautifully on the album, but the conception for me was difficult, as Brahem didn’t really interact with them at all, and it was very much really a solo album with a backing group, for me. So I suppose this influenced me in a different type of way!

ELMO HOPE – Trio and Sextet

Elmo Hope is a musician who I’ve got to know relatively recently through reading David Rosenthal’s book ‘Hard Bop’, and I really love this album, full of great compositions for both trio and sextet and some awesome playing from everyone!!

For more information visit
Zeitgeist2 by Shirley Smart & Robert Mitchell is available from Bandcamp

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