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.
The article has tales of encounters with Zoot in New Orleans and New York, including this snippet:
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.
Just last week I read your Zoot stories in my copy of The Note. Wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it!
Steve Provizer says
Thanks…While not a trailblazer, Zoot could say anything he wanted to on tenor-which was plenty. Also, the degree to which his sound is immediately identifiable is kind of amazing.
Mel Narunsky says
Thanks for the stories about Zoot Sims.
Whenever I see his name mentioned I remember how Benny Goodman once referred to him on a television program as “Zit Sooms”…
steve sherman says
…speaking of John Coates jr, I would like to know more about him. I heard a CD of a duo with Phil Woods and John Coates Jr and his playing was quite beautiful. I cannot find any additional CD’s by him.
(The Pacific St label offers four Coates CDs. Here’s the web site link:
For a Coates biography, go here: http://www.answers.com/topic/john-coates-jr
Bruno Leicht says
Zoot’s playing and attitude can be described with one word only: Honesty.
I love his duo album with Joe Pass in the early 1980’s:
Blues For Two
Would like to recommend especially the beautiful “Poor Butterfly” on that very album. — This is pure Zoot: Melodic, swingin’, and soulful. An improvisor with big ears. His counterpart on trumpet was Tony Fruscella, who is also one of the neglected jazzmen.
Your above story about the “blow”, the jam session, Doug, it shows that Zoot loved to play just for the sake of playing, for being there, and express himself through his sound. No yesterday, no tomorrow, it was the very moment of being present, of being “in it” *now*.
That’s why he had “installed himself on a stool”, and stayed there on the stage, listening to the others when they were telling their stories.
I wished that more of today’s jazz musicians, or the guys who think they *are* jazz players, I wished they all would read your article, and watch the video, and ask themselves:
How can I achieve such an effortless, such a beautiful sound?
If they would ask me, I would reply with one word: “Live!”
Thanks for remembering Zoot Sims who was one of a kind.
Ed Leimbacher says
Ever since his 1950 recordings in Paris for French Vogue, Sims has enjoyed Gallic acclaim. The French call it (justifiably, bien sur) “Zoot allure.”
Kim de Bourbon says
You CAN read “The NOTE” online at:
Winter/Spring 2010 The NOTE
This link should take you right to Doug’s article on Zoot, but you can scroll back and forth to read the whole magazine.
(ESU posts their full publications on the Issuu.com site.)
Bob Rosenblum says
I just stumbled on your story of Zoot Sims and I really loved it.
I got to know Zoot a bit when I was a booking agent in Albany, NY area. He was such a great guy to work with and ALWAYS played like it was his last night on earth.
The first time I really got to talk to him was at dinner at Lee and
Stan Shaw’s house. Zoot and Al Cohn were both there, and as a star
struck 22 year old, I was in seventh heaven. I had written a jazz
review in the Albany Student Press of an incredible album he made with
Mulligan’s Big Band called On Tour, which remains my favorite jazz recording to this day. Knowing I was going to meet Zoot, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share it with him (something I’d be too embarrassed to do today. I just wanted him to have it, but he actually took the time to read it and comment on it, and it was a moment I’ll take to my final days.
Of course, anyone who knows Zoot realizes that if you spend any time
around him, you end up with tons of great stories. He was a giant of a
man and one of the “dinosaurs” that Whitney Balliet wrote about in The
In any case, thank you for that touching story.