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Extended Analysis

Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers

By Published: July 2, 2005
Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers

The beauty of jazz is there are always older recordings to be discovered and rediscovered. Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers is one of these recordings. Long hailed as one of Sims's finest recordings, it was not until recently that it crossed my path. Everything in print was accurate. The recording is a blissfully successful bit of musical alchemy.

Recorded June 6, 1975, the recording was carefully considered in format, musicians, and repertoire (as opposed to a simple "blowing session ). The format is the tenor-led quintet, with the guitar-piano rhythm duo. The musicians were all in Norman Granz's Pablo stable, the home of the finest jazz had to offer at the time. Oscar Peterson showed himself an equal accompanist and soloist, demonstrating a great empathy with Sims. Ditto for Joe Pass, who has also served both rolls. Bassist George Mraz was breaking on to the jazz scene and on this recording was still two years away from his triumphant appearance on Art Pepper's Village Vanguard sides. Grady Tate was a mainstay during this period, his timekeeping impeccable.

Then there is Zoot Sims and this disc's repertoire. If ever there were a tenor saxophonist with an affinity for the music of the Gershwin brothers, it was one John Haley Sims. Sims's tenor tone was truly his own. Certainly he listened to Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, but his tone and style might be best considered a cross between Ben Webster and a conservative Dexter Gordon.

Right out of the chute, "The Man I Love sets the pace for the upbeat numbers. Oscar Peterson propels the band at a heady clip, swinging hard enough to cause an earthquake. Peterson and Pass provide a solid harmonic underpinning for Sims to play over. And play he does with a muscular fluidity that seems seamless. After a quiet "How Long Has This Been Going On (deftly opened by Pass in duet with Sims), things once again heat up courtesy of Mr. Peterson who provides a multi-chorus introduction setting the swing constant for "Lady Be Good. Sims tears into the song with exuberance. Grady Tate adds rim time to the song, giving it a half-time, double time personality before really showing off.

Sims's tone becomes sumptuous on the ballads. "I've Got A Crush On You is beautiful and loving. Sims and company treat the ubiquitous "I Got Rhythm with respect drawing out the natural swing of the tune that gave birth to a thousand others. If the recording has a center point, it has two. On the ballad side, "Someone to Watch Over Me is a wonderful throw-back to a simple ensemble manner of playing jazz standards where all parties perform with a measured brilliance perfect for the piece. Oscar Peterson's piano is steeped in the blues on the piece. On the rave up side, "Summertime is a monument. Grady Tate sets the pace with an inventive drum figure drawing Peterson and Pass in with him. This figure alternates with a solid 4/4 making the languid ode to summer cook.

Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers is one of those rare pleasures to discover. It is a recording that requires, demands, and warrants multiple playings.

Track Listing: The Man I Love, How Long Has This Been Going On; Oh Lady, Be Good; I've Got A Crush On You, I Got Rhythm, Embraceable You, 'S Wonderful, Someone To Watch Over Me, Isn't It A Pity, Summertime, Plus CD Bonus Track They Can't Take That Away From Me.

Personnel: Zoot Sims: tenor saxophone; Oscar Peterson: piano; Joe Pass: guitar; George Mraz: bass; Grady Tate: drums.

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