Zoot Sims - tenor sax, soprano sax; Jimmy Rowles - piano; Bob Cranshaw - bass; Mousey Alexander - drums
Tenor great Zoot Sims brought his smooth tone and boundless enthusiasm to the Great American Music Hall for a swinging set on October 8, 1978, accompanied by pianist and longtime collaborator Jimmy Rowles, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mousey Alexander. Just a few weeks shy of his 53rd birthday, Sims was still very much on top of his game throughout his GAMH appearance. Opening with a highly charged, swinging rendition of Neal Hefti's "Legs" (from the 1964 Tony Curtis-Natalie Wood movie "Sex & The Single Girl"), Sims immediately showcased his lovely burnished tone and surging, syncopated sense of phrasing on this uptempo romp. Shifting moods, Sims and his supportive crew settle into the alluring ballad "In the Middle of a Kiss," which has the tenor man channeling a smoky Coleman Hawkins/Ben Webster tone on his relaxed delivery. This popular song was written 1935 by Sam Coslow for the Paramount movie, College Scandal, and later introduced as a torch song by Julie London in her sultry 1958 version. Sims recorded a soothing instrumental version on his 1973 Pablo album, Zoot at Ease (with pianist Hank Jones, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Louis Bellson).
Sims switches to soprano for a haunting waltz-time rendition of Krzysztof Komeda's "Rosemary's Baby," the theme from Polish director Roman Polanski's 1968 American movie debut. Pianist Rowles is then prominently showcased in a trio rendition of his hauntingly beautiful ballad, "The Peacocks," then Sims joins them on the alluring bossa nova arrangement of the 1933 Harren Warren-Al Dubin Tin Pan Alley tune, "Shadow Waltz" and follows with a soulful bit of Coleman Hawkins-esque storytelling through his horn on the oft-covered standard "If I'm Lucky" (both of which the saxophonist recorded on his brilliant 1977 Pablo album, If I'm Lucky). Sims and his crew shift into high gear for a rousing finale of "Comes Love," the popular tune introduced by Billie Holiday in 1955. The band really stretches out on this Latin-tinged arrangement, which is unfortunately interrupted by a tape change during the recording. Alexander's dynamic drum solo on "Part 2" is a highlight of this spirited, swinging GAMH set-closer.
Born John Haley Sims on October 29, 1925, in Inglewood, California, he started off playing clarinet and drums before switching to tenor saxophone at age 13. His cool-toned sound was derived from countless hours of listening to Lester Young records. Sims began working professionally at age 15 with Bobby Sherwood's Orchestra. Sims acquired the nickname "Zoot" early in his career while he was in the Kenny Baker band in California. He joined Benny Goodman's big band in 1943 at age 18, then following a hitch in the Army returned to the Goodman orchestra in 1946. He gained his fame as one of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers" during his time with the Second Herd (1947-1949). He had brief stints in bands led by Buddy Rich, Artie Shaw, Chubby Jackson and Elliot Lawrence before touring and recording with Stan Kenton's Orchestra in 1953. Beginning in 1954, he co-led a combo with his old Second Herd band mate, fellow tenor saxophonist Al Cohn. Their sounds were complementary and their chemistry was immediate.
Sims appeared a featured soloist with Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band of the early 1960s. He began experimenting with soprano sax in the 1970s and continued recording as a leader through the '70s and '80s for a number of labels, including Groove Merchant, Famous Door, Storyville and Norman Granz's Pablo. He died on March 23, 1985, at age 59. (Bill Milkowski)