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"Zoot Sims is one of the best rhythm sections I know" once remarked Woody Herman. "He can swing more by tapping his toe than most guys can with a band behind them." Woody was referring to Sims' sense of time, that elusive, almost indefinable characteristic which is of such great value to a jazz musician. To have good time is frequesntly half the battle for without it even the best of iedas lose value. Time means more than maintaining a steady, rhythmic pulse; it embrases the art of saying the right thing at just the right moment so that it will have the maximum effect. And Zoot always managed to give his improvisations that extra punch by making sure that everything was in its right place.
Biographical details of the Sims career, from the first light of day at Inglewood, California in 1925, to full-time permanency in the Gerry Mulligan Sextet in 1956, were included in the sleeve note to Zoot's previous album on Black Lion. This set was recorded six months later, again for George Wein's Storyville label, while Zoot and Brookmeyer were still members of the Mulligan unit. In between the making of the two records, Mulligan took his Sextet on a tour of Europe, making a fairly lengthy stop in Paris. It was in Paris that Gerry decided to buy a clarinet while Zoot took a liking to an alto which was on display in the same shop. Equipped with their newly bought instruments, Mulligan and Sims were frequesnt night-visitors to the cellar club where Henri Renaud was leading a little band; it is unfortunate that none of the informal sessions was taken down on tape.
Back in America, Zoot remained with Mulligan for a few months before finally deciding to branch out on his own as a leader. He recruited the most suitable men available at the time and gained a booking at the Cafe Bohemia. On trumpet was Jerry Lloyed who, as Jerry Hurwitz, had once been a familiar figure in the Fifty-Second Street clubs; Zoot brought Lloyd out of musical retirement for he had been driving a taxi during the previous two or three years. Johnny Williams was on piano, and Johnny is the kind of pianist who would mke almost any rhythm section sound better; Ahmed Abdul-Malik and Karl Kiffe played bass and drums respectively. With this group Zoot doubled on tenor and alto, gaining confidence on the new instrument with each number. In fact, when an "ABC Paramount" recording came his way a little later he played alto, tenor and baritone, multi-taping the parts to make a one-man three-voiced sax section. In the spring of 1957 Zoot soloed on clarinet, alto and tenor.
Whatever the instrument, Sims could be relied upon to swing. There is nothing very profound nor contrived in his playing; rather it has the deceptive simplicity of a natural artist. His likes were many and varied; provided it swings, then it's accepted by his wide catholicity of taste.
"I'm not too particular about music," he said disarmingly, "but some things get to me more than others." Into the latter category falls the music of Duke Ellington, Al Cohn, Count Basie, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Parker, Lester Young and many others who believed, primarily in the basic tenets of true jazz.
Along with Zoot here may be heard four more of his musical preferences; Bob Brookmeyer came up from Kansas City orginally and fortunately for all concerned, he was in particularly good, inventive form on the day of Zoot's session and infused great emotional depth and personality into his work. (When asked what he thought of this record Bob replied "Whooeee! It's my best yet!"). Hank Jones comes from the musical Jones family (brother Thad played trumpet, brother Elvin is a drummer); Bud Powell and Al Haig were his early influences and he has developed into one of the leading modern jazz accompanists of recent years. Bill Crow can rightfully claim to having had a wide experience of jazz groups; before concentrating on being a bass player he was employed both as trombonist and drummer in and around Seattle. While at high school he played trumpet and baritone horn then, in the Army, he took up the alto sax. Finally Jo Jones, was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, big band drummer in jazz. Jo came up the hard way, playing in carnival bands in the days when all the musicians in the show had to be capable of taking over acting roles at a moment's notice. On tour with the carnival Jo seldom had a complete drum kit; "I used to walk into a grocery store and get a wooden box and whittle it down until I had some sticks. I had a sock cymbal and a top cymbal and I used a coat-hanger as a cymbal-holder. I rarely had a snare drum." The Cound Basie band benefited by Jo's presence for several years and his light, controlled beat since helped to drive all sizes and styles of jazz groups.
The music produced by these five men is uncomplicated, always in the best of taste and always swinging. A blow-by-blow commentary would be superfluous and the following remarks are intended only as a guide to increasing the listener's enjoyment. Morning Fun is the subject of some confusion with regard to its title. Zoot wrote and recorded (for "Prestige") a tune called Morning fun in September, 1952 but this is not it. It is, however, the same tune as Zootcase which was also recorded at the same "Prestige" session. After the light-hearted introduction, Whooeeee turns out to be a tune using an ascending-descending main phrase simialiar to that of Al Cohn's Floppy. A short ballad-medley follows, just one chorus of Brookmeyer playing Someone to watch over me
and one of Zoot on My old flame with Hank Jones constructing the necessary link between the two. Al Cohn's minor-major Box cars, which closes the secondside, like the delayed-action Snake eyes makes a very suitable vehicle for the quintet. Count Basie wrote The King and its original recording by the full Basie band in February, 1946 (the band which contained Jay Jay Johnson and Illinois Jacquet) marked Jo Jones' return to the studios after a two year absence in the Army. Jo comes to the fore on this present version when he exchanges some four-bar passages with the front-line men towards the end. Lullaby of the leaves is still one of the "request) numbers at Gerry Mulligan concerts following his Quartet recording of the tune. The hard working Bill Crow is given a solo chance for half a chorus and there is some fine Hank Jones piano to be heard as well. I can't get started contains Zoot's second-ever recorded vocal (his first, singing a blues lyric, was on the previous Black Lion album). Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme have little to fear from Zoot as a singer; the Sims attitude is clearly "if Chet Baker can do it, so can I."
The King (4:42), Lullaby Of The Leaves (5:12), I Can't Get Started (4:37), A Snake Eyes (3:58), Morning Fun (5:03), Whooeeeee! (5:07), Someone To Watch Over Me - My Old Flame (4:11), Box Cars (5:21)
Recorded in New York City, August 1956