A year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a piece about Al Cohn for The Note, the newsletter of The Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. The school is a part of the state system of higher education and of a jazz community that thrives in the Delaware Water Gap area of the Poconos Mountains 70 miles from New York City. The region’s premier jazz club, The Deer Head Inn (pictured), has become known around the world because of recordings made there by Phil Woods, John Coates Jr. and Keith Jarrett. Among the many musicians who live in or near the gap are Liebman, Woods, Bob Dorough and Hal Galper. For years, Woods has written “Phil In The Gap,” a witty lead column in The Note.
Evidently, my Cohn article didn’t drive away too many subscribers; Bob Bush, the editor, asked me write one about Zoot Sims. I did. It appears in the Spring 2010 issue of The Note. It begins:
Zoot Sims was wandering around in Eagleson Hall, across from the University of Washington campus in Seattle, looking lost. It was the spring of 1955.
“I heard there was going to be a blow,” he said.
That was the first time I met Zoot and the first time I had heard a jam session called a blow. I steered him toward the auditorium. He was in town for a one-nighter, part of a package tour Norman Granz’s brother Irving was taking up the west coast. The Chet Baker and Dave Brubeck quartets and George Shearing’s quintet were on the bill with Zoot’s group. Following the concert at a theatre downtown, several of the musicians went out to Eagleson to jam with a cross section of Seattle players. Sims, Baker, Shearing and Toots Thielemans showed up, greeted by a contingent of horn players eager to sit in with the visiting stars. Pianist Paul Neves headed up the rhythm section. At one point during the evening the festivities included the young bassist Freddie Schreiber, who later had a short, brilliant career with Cal Tjader.
Zoot installed himself on a stool near the piano and played until long after Baker, Shearing and the others bailed out. At three in the morning, it was Zoot and the rhythm section, then Zoot with bass and piano, then Zoot and Neves. Finally, the pianist left. While the drummer packed up, Zoot kept playing. It is an indelible image; Zoot with his eyes closed, head resting back against the wall, swinging by himself.
When Zoot and Louise hopped on the train and came out to our place in Bronxville, the evenings were full of food, drink, good conversation and laughter. Ben Webster’s recording of “All Too Soon” with Ellington was a requirement. “Play it again,” Zoot would say. “I can’t get enough of it.” Late in his career, his sound took on more of Webster’s amiable gruffness. One December, the Simses, Pepper Adams, my wife and I froze through a snowstorm and watched the Baltimore Colts’ embarrass the New York Giants in Yankee Stadium. We thawed out with dinner and a few games of ping pong at Zoot’s and Louise’s apartment. With his timing and relaxed attack, Zoot put me away handily and gave Pepper a good run for his money
The Note has no online edition, so I am unable to give you a link to the complete article. The Al Cohn Collection does have a web site. If you go to it and scroll down to “Publications,” you will see how to get on the mailing list. The current issue has pieces by Dave Frishberg about Bob Newman, a former Woody Herman tenor saxophonist who was at the heart of the Poconos scene; and by the pianist Gene DiNovi about the great studio musicians Gene Orloff and Ray Beckenstein. Scroll to “How to Donate” and you will see a way to help the nonprofit Al Cohn Collection sustain The Note as well as maintain and expand an archive that is invaluable to scholars, researchers and writers.
Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone; Red Mitchell, bass; Rune Gustafsson, guitar.