Flanagan, Tommy (Lee)

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Flanagan, Tommy (Lee)

Flanagan, Tommy (Lee), jazz pianist; b. Detroit, March 16, 1930. Flanagan’s father was Irish, and his mother African-American. He commenced clarinet studies at six and piano training at 11, working throughout his adolescence in local jazz haunts with various senior musicians, including Milt Jackson, Thad Jones, and Elvin Jones. He made his pro debut with Dexter Gordon in 1945. In 1956 he went to N.Y., where he performed and recorded with Oscar Pettiford, J.J. Johnson, Miles Davis, and others. He admired Coltrane, employed him on his album The Cats, and although the two never performed together in public Coltrane in turn employed Flanagan for the album Giant Steps (1959). He explained his famously cautious solo on this difficult piece by reporting that Coltrane had casually shown him the chords at the piano before the session but had not indicated that it was to be played fast! He subsequently was pianist for Coleman Hawkins, and music director for Ella Fitzgerald (1962 to 1965 and again 1968–78) and accompanied Tony Bennett. Since 1978, he has toured primarily with a trio. He won the Danish Jazzpar Award in 1992 and the NEA Jazzmasters award in 1996.


Overseas (1957); Cats (1957); Moodsville (1960); Trinity (1975); Montreux 1977 (1977); Eclypso (1977); Confirmation (1977); Alone Too Long (1977); Together with Kenny Barron (1978); Our Delights (1978); More Delights with Hank Jones (1978); Magnificent Tommy Flanagan (1981); Thelonica (1982); Giant Steps (1982); Blues in the Closet (1983); Jazz Poet (1989); Little Pleasure (1990); Beyond the Blue Bird (1990); Lady Be Good…For Ella (1994).

—Lewis Porter