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Jazz Pianist Terry Pollard Dies at 78

James Jenkins with Terry Pollard

Terry Jean Pollard, a leading female jazz pianist during the thriving Detroit jazz scene of the 1940s and 50s, died in New York Dec. 16 after a long illness. She was 78.

An enthusiastic cheerleader and tireless Jazz supporter who told others she was from “the home of the pros in Detroit,” Pollard got her professional start at the age of 16, and recorded one solo album before settling down to raise a family.

Born on August 15, 1931, Pollard got her first taste of the prolific Detroit jazz scene by recording with Billy Mitchell in 1948. She then collaborated with Johnny Hill from 1948-1949 and the Emmitt Slay Trio from 1950-1952.

From 1952-1953, while Pollard was again working closely with Mitchell, she was discovered at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit by well-known vibraphonist Terry Gibbs and asked to join his North American tour as part of the Terry Gibbs Quartet. Pollard played piano and second vibes with the group, recording many songs with Gibbs and Dick Garcia, which set her on track to ultimately hit the highest point in her Jazz career.

Pollard won a recording contract with Bethlehem Records and recorded one solo self-titled album in 1955. The following year she won the prestigious DownBeat Magazine New Artist award. During this time Pollard performed alongside John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, and appeared with Gibbs on the Tonight Show hosted by Steve Allen.

Shortly after recording her solo album, in the late 1950’s, Pollard decided to return to Detroit to raise a family. She continued to participate in the music scene, performing with local artists Yusef Lateef and Dorothy Ashby, and headliners Bert Myrick, Earl Klugh and Diana Ross & The Supremes in the Detroit area.

Pollard was a 60-year-member of the Detroit Federation of Musicians Local 5 in Southfield, Mich., and won many awards during her career. She was featured in the 2001 book Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit 1920-1960 by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert.

Pollard leaves one son, Dennis Michael Weeden; a daughter, Corby Marlene Swindle and their families. Funeral arrangements have not been finalized.

Originally Published