Hale Smith, Nov. 24, 2009

Hale Smith, professor emeritus of music, died Nov. 24, at the age of 84.

Smith straddled the worlds of jazz and classical music as a performer, composer, arranger, and teacher. He once described himself to The New York Times as “one of America’s most famous unknown composers,” according to a New York Times obituary notice.

From his early teens, he played jazz piano in the nightclubs of Cleveland, his hometown, but he went on to study classical composition and achieved a national reputation for his synthesis of jazz and 12-tone technique.

He composed serial-influenced works such as “Contours for Orchestra,” lyrical works such as the song cycle “The Valley Wind,” the jazz quartet “Feathers,” and jingles and incidental music for radio, television, and theater. Other works he composed include the orchestral composition “Innerflexions” and “Dialogues and Commentary.”

As a performer and arranger, he worked with jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie and Chico Hamilton. As an orchestrator, he engaged in a series of collaborations with the pianist Ahmad Jamal. And his arrangements of spirituals were performed by the sopranos Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman.

He joined the UConn faculty in 1970, retiring in 1984. He also was an adviser for the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago, and previously taught at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University.