Zoot Sims - tenor sax, soprano sax; Bucky Pizzarelli - guitar; Dave McKenna - piano; Major Holley - bass; Jake Hanna - drums
This all-star aggregation, led by the eminent tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, shows remarkable chemistry on the Great American Music Hall stage for this June 10, 1977 concert. Swing is the optimum word for this performance which also features jazz veterans and Zoot colleagues Dave McKenna on piano and Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar.
Accompanied by the rhythm tandem of Major Holley and Jake Hanna, they open with a swinging up-tempo rendition of "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," the Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein tune from a 1928 musical which later became a jazz standard covered by the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis and, most famously, the Modern Jazz Quartet. Sims switches to soprano sax for this opening number. (Strictly a tenor player since embarking on a professional career in the 1940s, Sims didn't start doubling on soprano until 1973.)
Pianist McKenna then commands the stage for a gorgeous trio rendition of "Beautiful Friendship." Like one of his primary influences, pianist Erroll Garner, McKenna's steady left hand emulates the solid comping style of the infallible rhythm guitarist Freddie Green from the Count Basie Orchestra. McKenna's dazzling right-hand runs and syncopated dexterity enlivens this Gus Kahn-Jules Styne number, which the pianist had recorded two years earlier with the Jake Hanna-Carl Fontana band.
Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli is next showcased on an unaccompanied medley of tunes by one of his biggest influences, the legendary Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. His solo presentation includes a sensitive reading of the lush ballad "Nuages" and a crackling take on the jaunty "Tears," which Django co-composed with his Hot Club of France Quintet partner, violinist Stephane Grappelli. The low B-string on Pizzarelli's 7-string guitar lends a rich, low-end presence to his virtuosic interpretation of these Django numbers. The great guitarist (who is still performing in his mid 80s) concludes his solo portion of the show with a brief but moving rendition of Steven Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns," a poignant number from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music and a startling take on Polish film composer Bronislaw Kaper's "On Green Dolphin Street," which became a jazz staple and was covered, most famously, by the Miles Davis Sextet featuring John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb.
Sims returns to the stage to join Pizzarelli in an intimate duet of "Memories of You," an engaging number written by pianist-composer Eubie Blake for the musical review Blackbirds of 1930 and which later became strongly associated with the Benny Goodman Orchestra during the height of the Swing era. Zoot's smoky tenor blends beautifully here with Pizzarelli's pianistic comping (a style he emulated from another huge influence, the pioneering guitarist George Van Eps). Their extraordinary duo chemistry, which they explored the previous year on Zoot Sims With Bucky Pizzarelli, is evident here.
The full band returns for a rousing medley of Duke Ellington tunes, including a swinging rendition of "In a Mellow Tone" that features some especially urgent blowing by the tenor player, a sublime reading of the ballad "I Got it Bad (And That Ain't Good)," a mellow version of "Satin Doll" that showcases pianist McKenna's inimitable touch on the keys and a beautiful interpretation of "Mood Indigo" featuring Pizzarelli's lush chord melodies and warm-toned single note lines on top. They close out the set with an invigorating take on Ellington's "Caravan," with Sims wailing on soprano sax.
Born John Haley Sims on Oct. 29, 1925 in Inglewood, CA, Zoot Sims played drums and clarinet as a child before switching to tenor saxophone at age 13. Inspired by Lester Young, he developed a velvety smooth tone on the instrument while also demonstrating an effortless sense of swing by age 15, when he landed his first professional job with Bobby Sherwood's Orchestra. He joined Benny Goodman's big band in 1943 and a year later recorded with Goodman's pianist, Joe Bushkin. After a stint in the Army, Sims returned to the Goodman band in 1946 before joining Woody Herman's Second Thundering Herd in 1947. He became one of the standout soloists in the sax section alongside baritone ace Serge Chaloff and fellow tenor players Herbie Steward and Stan Getz (they were immortalized by the Jimmy Giuffre tune, "Four Brothers").
Sims left Herman's band in 1949 and had brief stints with Buddy Rich's big band, Artie Shaw's band along with another term in Benny Goodman's band. He toured and recorded with Stan Kenton (1953) and Gerry Mulligan (1954-1956). He became a star soloist during the early '60s with Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band and also another edition of Benny Goodman's Orchestra. He recorded frequently as a leader through the '70s and into the early '80s for a variety of labels, including Pablo, Storyville, and Prestige. He died in New York on Mar 23, 1985 at age 59. (Milkowski)