Smith began his career in his native England, playing his first job for pay when he was fourteen. Someone rolled a piano out into the street, and he played for the VE Day celebrations. Smith also began performing and recording for the British Broadcasting Corporation (British Broadcasting Corporation), but soon realized the place for him professionally, was America.
Smith immigrated to the United States with no job awaiting him.
Fourteen days after arriving in New York, he recorded with the Modern Jazz Quartet. One of his first engagements was working with his trio opposite Mel Tormé and Ella Fitzgerald at Basin Street East in New New York
He joined Benny Goodman’s band in 1961, and was pianist on Benny Goodman – The Swing Era, released by Time/Life Records, as well as working with Connie Kay and recording copiously as a session musician. Derek Smith met Doc Severinsen when both were contracted to play a society gig.
Later, when Severinsen was named leader of the National Broadcasting Company Orchestra, the “The Tonight Show Band", he called Smith to be the pianist.
Smith played with the band for seven years while continuing to record daily in New York studios and work with Benny Goodman. When The Tonight Show moved to the West Coast, Smith opted to stay in New York and continue his career as a “first call” studio musician. Smith led his own band on National Broadcasting Company’s “Musical Chairs (1955 television series)” game show after he left the “Tonight Show”.
After “Musical Chairs” was cancelled, he began concentrating on jazz concert performances while continuing to record.
Smith has around 30 albums as leader to his cr in the United States and Japan. Described by critics as "fiery", "passionate", and having "an evil left hand", he is a frequent headliner at jazz festivals around the world.
Smith may be heard on recordings ranging from the popular Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick and Steve Lawrence/Eydie Gorme tracks, recorded in the 1960s, to jazz albums with Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy DeFranco, Louie Bellson, Milt Hinton, and Clark Terry. The roster of singers with whom Derek Smith has performed go from Frank Sinatra to Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Robert Palmer (in the Royal Albert Hall).
He continued to work with Goodman in the 1970s, and recorded often as a leader from 1978.
He worked as a solo performer into the 2000s and also played in a trio with Bobby Rosengarden and Milt Hinton.
Member American Federation Musicians, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
Married Shirley V. Bent. Children: Helen J., Valerie L.