Pianist Tony Lee was born in Whitechapel, London in July, 1934. He was entirely self taught and absorbed the influence of Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. In the late 1950s he spent time in the RAF and on leaving became a professional musician.
He formed his first trio in 1961 and got his first break in 1965 at the Ship, a popular jazz pub in Bermondsey, and it was here he met bass player Tony Archer who introduced him to the Bull's Head. He worked with a number of drummers including Martin Drew and Tony Mann and in the late 1960s he began working with Phil Seamen as well as free-lancing with leading jazzmen including Lennie Best, Tubby Hayes, Dick Morrissey and Kenny Baker.
In the late 1970s he worked with Tommy Whittle in a quartet widely acclaimed as "a perfect jazz combo" that worked frequently at Ronnie Scott's, sharing the bill with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones and Milt Jackson. The Quartet was said to combine artistic success with unashamed entertainment - an enviable combination! He also worked with other US musicians Barney Kessel, Sonny Stitt and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis and became known in the US, in the late 1970s receiving a standing ovation in Bradleys, a New York jazz club.
During the 1960s and '70s through to the 1990s he worked regularly at the Bull's Head in Barnes, one of London's most celebrated jazz venues, with a continuous supply of visiting guests, and continued to lead his own trio through to the early 2000s before his death in 2004.
Modern jazz started to change in the 1960s and so called straight ahead jazz began to lose it's appeal for some, but Lee remained faithful to his tasteful style and whether with his trio or as an accompanist his music always swung. He never ventured much beyond the mainstream and preferred to interpret jazz standards, ballads and pop tunes. His career spanned forty years and he became one of Britains most popular jazz pianists, playing with the world's top jazz musicians. Besides jazz he had worked with star vocalists Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield.
Tony Lee (1968)
"Tony Lee...always making sure that his accompanying piano helps and not hinders - an art in itself - and when given the opportunity shows that he is still the most outstanding pianist on the British jazz scene....Jack Parnell"
|"Tony was entirely self taught. He never learned to read "the dots", although he could read chord sequences. He could play any tune in any key, he really was a "one-off". His father used to be a singer and his older brother Arthur played vibes and piano. Tony would sit beside his brother on the stool and practice. He listened to all the records by Erroll Garner and learned to play in that style. It was a gift".....Olga Lee (Tony's wife)|
Phil Seamen Trio - 1968 (Now...Live - Verve S/VLP9220) recorded live at The Bull's Head and Royal Oak, London.
Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b), Phil Seamen (d).
On A Clear Day You Can See For Ever/Whose Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf/Can't Buy Me Love/T Spoke/Vacushna/On Green Dolphin Street/Something Special/Gaslight/What Kind Of Fool Am I/Three O'clock In The Morning/C'est Si Bon.
Phil Seamen Trio - July 22nd,1968 (Phil Seamen meet Eddie Gomez - Saga OPP102).
Tony Lee (p), Eddie Gomez (b), Phil Seamen (d).
Night Train/Salt Peanuts/Corcovado/A Foggy Day/Bluesette/Fish This Week/Autumn Leaves/Here's That Rainy Day.
Tubby Hayes with the Tony Lee Trio - Recorded live at the Hopbine February 8th, 1972 (Acrobat ACMCD4383 )
Tubby Hayes (ts,f), Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b),Dick Brennan (d).
Symphony*/Autumn Leaves*/A Certain Smile*/I Thought About You*/Sonneymoon For Two*.
(*Acrobat CD - Tubby Hayes Symphony - The Lost Session)
Tubby Hayes and Tony Lee - February 4th, 1973 (Top Alex, Southend-On-Sea, Essex)
Tubby Hayes (ts), Tony Lee (p), John Moule (b), Trevor Taylor (d).
Sonnymoon For Two*.
(*Acrobat 3CD set - Tubby Hayes - Without A Song (Rare Live recordings 1954-73)
Kenny Baker's All Stars - December 9th, 1974 (77 S56)
Kenny Baker (tp), Don Lusher (tb), Tommy Whittle, Danny Moss (ts), Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b), Bill Eyden (d).
Sweet Sue*/Out Of Nowhere*/Three Little Words* (DL,DM out)/It Don't Mean A Thing* (DL,DM out).
(*Progressive CD - Kenny Baker's All Stars & The Dick Morrissey Quartet)
Tony Lee / Tony Archer - January 18th, 1975 (Jazz at the Braye Cottage - JBC1011 (cassette))
Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b).
The Tony Lee Trio (right) was completed by Tony Archer and Martin Drew and they worked together on many occasions. Bass player Tony Archer said of Lee: "we worked together for 40 years and he had a fantastic musical ear... he never played like Erroll Garner just for effect. He just loved that style and was one of the few who could do it properly, in fact he was so good you could hardly tell the difference. When Tony played you never lost sight of the melody..."
Tony Lee Trio - July 1st, 1975 (My one and only love - MBC Studios MBC200)
Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b), Martin Drew (d).
Isn't It Romantic/John Brown's Body/My One And Only Love/My Funny Valentine/Blues For M.D./Li'l Darlin'/Wave/You Are My Heart's Delight.
Tony Lee Trio - March 2nd, 1976 (British Jazz Artists Vol 1 - Lee Lambert LYN3416)
Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b), Martin Drew (d).
Blues For H.L/Misty/Emily/Once In A While/Teach Me Tonight/Blue Bossa/I Can't Get Started/Perdido.
Tony Lee / Terry Smith - March, 1977 (British Jazz Artists, Vol 2 - Lee Lambert LAM002)
Tony Lee (p), Terry Smith (g), Tony Archer (b), Martin Drew (d).
Isn't She Lovely/Willow Weep For Me/Grooveyard/Dat's Dat/You're Gona Hear From Me/All Blues/Para Mi Hijo (TS solo).
Tommy Whittle Quartet - 1977 (Jam 648 - Why Not?)
Tommy Whittle (ts), Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b), Martin Drew (d).
Jingles*/Why Not*/But Beautiful*/Know It All*/Emily*/Bullseye*/Watch What Happens*/Funk In A Deep Freeze*.
(*Acrobat CD - Why not - The Tommy Whittle Quartet)
Tony Lee and Friends - Live at Ronnie Scott's, August 10th, 11th, 12th, 1978 (Tony Lee and Friends - Pye N104)
Tony Lee (p), Rodney Jones (g-1), Tony Archer (b), Tony Mann or Mickey Roker-1 (d), Tony Utah (cga).
Blue 'n' Boogie(1)/Body And Soul/Tenderly/Leeward(1)/If/Bluesology.
Tony Lee Quartet - February, 1979 (Street of Dreams - LAM 102)
Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b), Martin Drew (d), Tony Utah (cga).
Li'l Darlin'*/Loss Of Love*/Street Of Dreams*/Dick's Mood*/Love For Sale*/My Funny Valentine*/On Green Dolphin Street*.
(*Vocalion CD - The Martin Drew Band & Tony Lee)
The Very Best of British Jazz - October, 1983 (The very Best of British Jazz - Polyphonic PRJ501)
Kenny Baker (tp), Don Lusher (tb), Betty Smith (ts), Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b), Jack Parnell (d).
Recorded live at the Bull's Head Inn in Barnes, SW London. The CD is available only from the Bull's Head...
Peter King/Dick Morrissey/Martin Taylor - 1987 (Live At The Bull - Bull's Head Music BHM001)
Peter King (as), Dick Morrissey (ts), Tony Lee (p), Ian Scott-Taylor (b), Terry Jenkins (d).
Tony Crombie (d) replaces Terry Jenkins.
They Can't Take That Away From Me*.
Peter King (as), Ian Scott-Taylor (b), Terry Jenkins (d).
(*Bulll's Head Music CD - Live at the Bull)
Tony Lee Trio - March 18th, 2000 (Close to you - Mainstem CD)
Tony Lee (p), Ian Scott Taylor (b), Martin Drew (d).
St. Thomas*/For Pepper*/The Nearness Of You*/Close To You*/For All We Know*/Weaver Of Dreams*/One To Curl Up On*/Doodlin'*/My Foolish Heart*/Speak Low*/You Stepped Out Of A Dream*/Falling In Love With Love*/ Battle Hymn Of The Republic*.
(*Mainstem CD - Close to you)
Tony Lee Trio - June 4th, 2000 (The Tony Lee Trio Live at the Station - Jagz CD)
Tony Lee (p), Tony Archer (b), Ronnie Verrell (d).
Don't Get Around Much Any More*/All The Things You Are*/Stompin' At The Savoy*/Cry Me A River*/Get Me To The Church On Time*/How Could You Do A Thing Like That*/Laura*/Fly Me To The Moon*/When I Fall In Love*/Cute*.
(*Jagz CD - The Tony Lee Trio Live at the Station)