Zoot Sims the Altoist

I recently had a chance to stop in to the Library of Congress and look for some scores by Jimmy Giuffre. I acquired his pieces for Clarinet and Orchestra and an as yet unrecorded Clarinet and String Quartet piece. While I was there I had a little extra time to dig in to the extensive Gerry Mulligan collection that they have, consisting of over 200 boxes of music and correspondence. I only had time to pick one box, so I saw in the finder’s guide a chart for Venus de Milo, of Birth of the Cool fame, and went with that one. Inside I was excited to find a set of complete parts with the names Lee, Art, Coop, Willis, and Gerry on them, some also said Zoot.

Mulligan Turnstile Parts

This was for a series of charts for five saxes, the above names referring to Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, Bob Cooper, (Willis) Bill Holman, and Gerry Mulligan. I had never heard of a record by this band so I felt I had discovered something of import, perhaps as yet unheard music. Instead, I discovered that these were the charts for The Gerry Mulligan Songbook released on Pacific Jazz in 1957. Instead of the above named saxists, the recording features Lee, then Zoot Sims on second alto, Allen Eager and Al Cohn on tenors, and Gerry. The charts are great simple blowing affairs by Bill Holman, a couple of which we will perform on October 22nd at the Drawing Room. I bring this up as a lead in to today’s topic, Zoot Sims’ alto playing.

Zoot Sims Plays Alto

Certainly known more as a tenor player, Zoot Sims plays alto on a few recordings, mostly his own, but this was the first time I had heard him in a section on alto. His solos are a strong substitute for Art Pepper, who was apparently intended for the session, and in fact I would say stylistically the two are quite similar, deriving from Lester Young rather than Charlie Parker. Here is Zoot on track 1 from the Gerry Mulligan Songbook, “Four and One Moore.”


[audio: http://www.jondelucia.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/zootfour.mp3]


Paul Desmond always claimed Zoot as one of his favorite players, and one can hear some similarities in feel and vibrato, while also being generally more propulsive than most of Paul’s playing.

Zoot also made a couple of novelty albums with new overdubbing technology, namely Zoot Sims Plays Four Altos, with arrangements by George Handy. You can hear a bit on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Plays-Tenor-Altos-Zoot-Sims/dp/B000QTD52K.

Bassist Bill Crow told me that when they recorded this, Zoot improvised on one alto, then gave the recording to George Handy, who transcribed it and voiced it for 4 altos. When he brought the arrangements in for Zoot to record, he had voiced every single note, creating some tricky lines. Zoot complained that he wouldn’t be able to play it, so George simplified the parts a bit. The result is this unusual record, but it does feature some great alto playing by Zoot.

One can find examples scattered throughout the 50’s before Zoot focused on the tenor, and occasionally soprano. Here is one I just discovered today, another overdubbing experiment:


I love this particularly Lesterian lineage of alto players, that also includes people like Bud Shank, who’s live at the Haig recording especially swings, and of course Art Pepper, and in a way Benny Carter and Cannonball Adderley,  alto players that are really descended from the swing era.. I’ll talk more about lineage in next week’s post, but I encourage you to check out more Zoot Sims on alto. And please do share any others I don’t know about in the comments!





Counterpoint and Jazz

I’ve been thinking a lot about counterpoint and its application in jazz lately. In fact I’ve become obsessed with how some of the classic arrangers and players thought about counterpoint and used it in their music.

Obviously the concept is not new and it has informed a large part of my musical taste over the years, but recently, while studying 16th Century Counterpoint at City College this past fall some points have hit home. Researching Jimmy Giuffre for a school project I read about how he and many west coast jazz composers, including Shorty Rogers, studied with composer/mystic Wesley La Violette, who emphasized counterpoint in his teaching. Giuffre claimed to incorporate contrapuntal thinking into all of his work after that point, thinking of each instrument’s individual line, even down to notating specific drum parts with a melodic sensibility. The album Tangents in Jazz(1956) is a nice example of his writing for small group. Condensed arrangements for most of the tunes on this album were published in the 1960’s and have been uploaded on Scribd (Giuffre Sketch-orks).

Of course Gerry Mulligan’s work is a great example of polyphonic jazz, and you can hear him talk about it briefly in this interview:

Gerry Mulligan Interview (text)
Gerry Mulligan Interview (audio)

Today I read through arranger Bill Russo’s chapter on counterpoint in Jazz Composition and Orchestration. Russo wrote for Stan Kenton, and was a student of classical composition. He was a forerunner of the Third Stream movement. This book includes great straightforward exercises on how to use counterpoint in a jazz setting, without adhering to strict Fuxian species rules. Happily, the whole chapter is on Google Books here:

Bill Russo’s Jazz Composition and Orchestration

Russo also cites Mulligan, Giuffre, John Lewis and George Russell as the finest examples of contrapuntal jazz writing at the time and credits the books of Hindemith as inspiration for his writings on the subject. Hindemith’s book on two part writing is a great resource, though I’ve only worked through some of it and can’t fully evaluate it.

Speaking of Kenton arrangers, Bill Holman is a great example of someone who puts the line first. Listen to the first track of his first album as a leader. It’s a good example of how counterpoint permeates much of the west coast jazz sensibility.

The more I think about it, this is the way I want to look at music, and jazz in particular. My favorite players: Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Jimmy Giuffre, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Bill Crow, Jim Hall, Ted Brown and more all emphasize the line and contrapuntal concepts. I guess it’s also no surprise that I have a project that specifically plays the music of the polyphonic golden age in the Luce Trio. I am also working away at my book of Bach melodic structures for saxophone. The current of counterpoint running through music becomes clearer to me as time goes on and I hope to dig deeper this year with more study and a potential big band arranging project on the horizon. I hope some of these materials are helpful, I encourage all jazz players to think a bit more about counterpoint in their playing and writing.