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Tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims (1925-85) is more often heard about than heard. He came out of the big bands of Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton and, later, Gerry Mulligan. But he garnered real attention in the late forties as part of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers" band, which also included Stan Getz. When Sims pursued a career of his own, he was often heard in the company of fellow tenor player Al Cohn (their 32Jazz disc, Body and Soul, is definitive) or in quartets of his own. Sims' warm tenor sound was perfect for the standards and ballads he tended toward. But his tone and style were so similar to Getz, that the latter's fame probably helped contribute to Sims' obscurity. Regardless, Sims recorded and performed frequently during the four decades leading up to his death.
"Live" in Philly is a record of one those performances, captured somewhere toward the end of Sims' career. It's warm, comfortable date, played by a warm, cohesive group in a warm and welcoming club atmosphere. This never-before released 50-minute set catches the tenor (and, on "I Don't Stand," soprano) man at his prime, performing standards and three Ellington favorites with regular pianist Benny Aronov, bassist Major Holley and drummer Mickey Roker. It's clear these musicians know each other and the musical ground they cover inside and out. Bassist Holley (who died in 1990) is prominently featured throughout (especially on "Do Nothing" and "Polka Dots") and greatly enhances the proceedings with his own Slam Stewart-like personality. Zoot seems less in charge of things and more like a happy camper along for the ride. But his playing is never less than worthy (especially on Ellington's "Mellotone") and does not betray a man at the end of his road.
This exceptionally well-recorded set (presumably recorded for Muse Records in the early eighties) isn't going to change the world or anybody's mind about anything. But it's a great way to hear a great player playing what he loved, the way he liked to play it and where he loved to play it most.
Tracks:That Old Devil Called Love; Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; I Don't Stand A Ghost of A Chance With You; In A Mellow Tone; I've Got It Bad And That Ain't Good; Theme.
Personnel: Zoot Sims: tenor and soprano saxophone; Major Holley: bass; Benny Aronov: piano; Mickey Roker: drums.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.