29 October 1925
Inglewood, Los Angeles County, California, United States
23 March 1985 (aged 59)
John Haley "Zoot" Sims (October 29, 1925 - March 23, 1985) was an American jazz saxophonist.
He was born in Inglewood, California. Sims' family was involved in vaudeville, and, for his part, John learned to play both drums and clarinet at an early age. Zoot's father was a vaudeville hoofer, and Zoot prided himself on remembering many of the steps his father taught him.
Following in the footsteps of Lester Young, Sims developed into an innovative tenor saxophonist. Throughout his career, he played with renowned bands, including Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, and Buddy Rich. He was known among his peers as one of the strongest swingers in the field. Sims frequently led his own combos and sometimes toured with his friend Gerry Mulligan with Gerry's sextet, and later with his Concert Jazz Band. Zoot had a long, successful partnership as co-leader of a quintet with Al Cohn, which recorded under "Al and Zoot". That group was a favorite at the New York club "The Half Note." Late in his career, Sims added the soprano saxophone to his performances. Sims' nickname — Zoot — was acquired early in his career while he was on the Kenny Baker band in California. The name was later appropriated for a sax-playing Muppet.
Zoot Sims died in New York on March 23, 1985.
(2) Throughout his career, Zoot Sims was famous for epitomizing the swinging musician, never playing an inappropriate phrase. He always sounded inspired, and although his style did not change much after the early 1950s, Zoot's enthusiasm and creativity never wavered.
Zoot's family was involved in vaudeville, and he played drums and clarinet as a youth. His older brother, Ray Sims, developed into a fine trombonist who sounded like Bill Harris. At age 13, Sims switched permanently to the tenor, and his initial inspiration was Lester Young, although he soon developed his own cool-toned sound. Sims was a professional by the age of 15, landing his first important job with Bobby Sherwood's Orchestra, and he joined Benny Goodman's big band for the first time in 1943; he would be one of BG's favorite tenormen for the next 30 years. He recorded with Joe Bushkin in 1944, and even at that early stage, his style was largely set.
After a period in the Army, Sims was with Goodman from 1946-1947. He gained his initial fame as one of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers" during his time with the Second Herd (1947-1949). Zoot had brief stints with Buddy Rich's short-lived big band, Artie Shaw, Goodman (1950), Chubby Jackson, and Elliot Lawrence. He toured and recorded with Stan Kenton (1953) and Gerry Mulligan (1954-1956). Sims was also a star soloist with Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band of the early '60s and visited the Soviet Union with Benny Goodman in 1962. A freelancer throughout most of his career, Sims often led his own combos or co-led bands with his friend Al Cohn; the two tenors had very similar sounds and styles. Zoot started doubling on soprano quite effectively in the '70s. Through the years, he appeared in countless situations, and always seemed to come out ahead. Fortunately, Zoot Sims recorded frequently, leading sessions for Prestige, Metronome, Vogue, Dawn, Storyville, Argo, ABC-Paramount, Riverside, United Artists, Pacific Jazz, Bethlehem, Colpix, Impulse, Groove Merchant, Famous Door, Choice, Sonet, and a wonderful series for Pablo. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
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