Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Listening to Prestige Records, part 27: Zoot Sims
And...back to Sweden. If it was at one time widely known that Sweden was a hotbed for bebop, that seems to have mostly faded into oblivion, but more than a couple of American musicians it became a home for several years, or even a permanent home. (And it's still happening -- my friend Billy Troianni is now a full time resident of Norway, with a Norwegian blues band.) And Prestige, through an association with the Swedish Metronome Records, reaped the benefits.
Zoot Sims made it over to Sweden in April of 1950, and did two sessions in two days, with two different groups. Spotify has four cuts from those sessions, and the Swedes and expats do a solid job of backing up Zoot.
Toots Thielemans is actually Belgian, and he was to become an important part of the American jazz scene. He didn't move to the States until 1952, but by then he had already established himself as an outstanding jazzman. His early Paris sessions included one with Charlie Parker, which means he gets added to the "Played with Bird" log that Peter Jones and I put together of still-living musicians who played with Parker. Toots is still very much with us. He announced his retirement earlier this year at age 91, but then came out of retirement again last month.
He joins Sims here for one cut, "All the Things You Are," and contributes some very neat stuff, both in playing together on the opening chorus, and later in a solo. Harmonica and tenor sax maybe shouldn't mesh, but here they do -- oddly, but they do.
Sims also pays his homage to the master, Lester Young, with Young's composition "Tickle Toe." I went back and listened to the song by Lester and the Basie Band, and Zoot definitely takes it and makes it his own, putting it into a quartet session, and bringing it into the bebop era.
In my early days of jazz addiction, in the late Fifties, one of my first experiences of live jazz was Al Cohn and Zoot Sims with a quintet the Half Note, with my fellow Bard student Leonard Rosen, then my main man, and now back on my horizon after being AWOL for about forty years -- you'll remember this night, Lenny. Mose Allison was playing piano for Al and Zoot then, and the two of us had just fallen under the spell of Mose's first release, Back Country Suite.
Zoot knew how to play. He'd cut his teeth with the Woody Herman band, played on Stan Getz's Five Brothers session, and on Chubby Jackson's outstanding big band sessions, and this was his first outing as a leader. He had a long and impressive career ahead of him. He could swing, he could experiment, he could make you feel good about jazz.