Sullivan played in a surprising variety of venuessome more unlikely than othersincluding of all places Disneyland. "They had a wonderful jazz room at Lake Buena Vista in Disneyland when it started, for about six or seven years and I'd play there," he recalls. His memories of club includes reunions with trumpeter Idrees Sulieman, with whom he played with in the Messengers. "Idrees would come in and sit in because he always came to visit his family over from Denmark and stay a couple of monthshe also played alto sax by the way. A lot cats didn't know thatSo he came in and sat in on his alto and he said, 'Man, I never get to play alto.' And he played as many choruses as Trane would do on a tune, only this was in the Disney World jazz loungebut I just let him play because I know he loved it."
In Florida, away from the reputation as a solid bebopper that he had earned in Chicago, Sullivan was free to express his own developing musical personality as a leader. His forward looking Horizons album, recorded for Atlantic in 1967, proved him to be one of the most eclectic players to ever develop out of the mainstream. Eight years later he solidified his reputation as a truly unique creative musician with an eponymous date for A&M Horizon that introduced the then unknown Jaco Pastorious. While teaching at the University of Miami he mentored a young Pat Metheny, which would, along with his association with Pastorious, later lead to his revered status among the younger fusion generation. Meanwhile he maintained his reputation as a straight ahead master with recordings as a sideman with Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland, Hank Jones and Louie Bellson, as well as with the group he co-led with Red Rodney.
Sullivan is emphatic in saying that the only way he's managed to remain in Florida all these years is his ability to leave and play elsewhere, most notably in his beloved hometown of Chicago, where he remains an annual fixture. "I host at the Jazz Showcase," he says. "I finish up Charlie Parker month and then we go right into the week of the Labor Day Festival, which is on the lakefront. And so I'm usually the host at the club and all the headliners come over and play with us." He believes that one of the room's jam sessions is where he first met an eighteen year old Eric Alexander. This year's trip had an even more rejuvenating effect on Sullivan than usual. An old trumpeter friend there, Dr. Martin Marshack, had become a prostodontist and in a revolutionary new procedure restored Sullivan's aging teeth, which had suffered from years of punishing multiple embouchures. "He rebuilt my tooth structure, took it back to where it was when I was nineteen," he says.
Sullivan will be playing soprano saxophone, trumpet and flute when he joins Alexander at Dizzy's with a group that will also include Harold Mabern at the piano, John Weber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. "Eric is covering the tenor," he says, "so we'll have a lot of variety. A lot of different sounds can be made with that kind of quintet." He rejects the concept of a battle of the saxophones. "Battle," he says, "we've got enough war in the world. Music is harmony, melody and rhythm."
· J.R. MonteroseJ.R. Monterose (Blue Note, 1956)
· Ira SullivanBlue Stroll (with Johnny Griffin) (Delmark, 1959)
· Rahsaan Roland KirkIntroducing Roland Kirk (Chess-GRP, 1960)
· Ira Sullivan/Chicago Jazz QuintetBird Lives! (Vee-JayKoch, 1962)
· Ira SullivanPeace (Galaxy-Fantasy, 1978)
· Red Rodney/Ira SullivanSprint (Elektra, 1982)