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!





NYC Jazz Clubs Map Revisit


Royal Roost with Charlie Parker
The Royal Roost


My Google map of our forgotten jazz clubs here in the city (originally posted here) appears to have been rediscovered over the weekend, and I wanted to repost it here along with some of the informative comments I’ve received. I’ve added a few clubs with these comments in mind and would like to also thank Bill Crow, Steve Little, Billy Mintz, Taro Okamoto, Murray Wall and many other musicians that have helped me out with tips and anecdotes for this map. Speaking of anecdotes, I think I will start adding some to the map, stay tuned!

Tenorist Ted Brown had this to say on Facebook about the project:

“I noticed a couple things…(1) In 1976 there used to be a basement club on W. 86th Street called Strykers where Lee, Chet Baker and others worked. (2) When the Half Note closed one of the Cantarino Brothers (Sonny?) opened up a club on W. 54th Street called the Half Note but instead of jazz he catered to a lunch time crowd with strippers behind the bar, etc. until the Vice Squad threatened to close him down…suddenly he went back to a jazz policy so he called Lee to go back to jazz and I worked with him a few weekends. (3) Right across the street on W. 54th between 7th and 6th Ave. was Eddie Condon’s place where Mike Canterino was managing the bar…that was in 1977. (4) The Open Door in  1953 was near the east side of Washington Square Park. (5) In 1959 we lived near Broadway and 9th Street and I remember the Five Spot as being pretty close to Broadway around 4th Street…could be wrong.”

From Bill Crow:

“Did you know “Le Downbeat” on W 54th near 8th Ave? Barbara Carroll’s trio was the house group, and the other band would be someone like Stan Getz or Oscar Pettiford.”

And from the comments on the original post courtesy of John Biderman:

“As a native New Yorker, whose parents were die-hard jazz buffs, I got to experience the renaissance of clubs in the ’70s (helped along, I think, by George Wein moving his festival to the city). So, a few notes: Also in the Village was Nick’s at I think 10th St. and Greenwich Ave. but you’d need to confirm. Later on it became Your Father’s Mustache (wha???) which had a group of Dixie banjo players most nights but it was the venue where Red Balaban had his Sunday gig of “Balaban and Cats,” until he opened his own place, the *new* Eddie Condon’s on W 54 near 7th. Which brings to mind that that block hosted the new Condon’s, the new Jimmy Ryan’s (relocated from 52nd St. and the longest living of the clubs), and briefly the new Half Note relocated from the West Village. A couple of additions on the east side of University Place: The Knickerbocker at the corner of 9th (still there, of course), and The Cookery on the corner of 8th, founded by Barney Josephson of Cafe Society fame and host to a slew of excellent pianists and, eventually, vocalists, notably Helen Humes and Alberta Hunter.

“Thought of a couple more: Michael’s Pub at, if I recall correctly, 55th and 3rd, one of Gil Weist’s places. He also ran the Carnegie Tavern, which was at the 56th and 7th corner of the Carnegie Hall building, a showcase for Ellis Larkins and others (and perhaps the only room in town to boast an August Förster piano, brilliant-sounding). Oh, and Zinno’s, on 13th just west of 6th – had a small music room in the ’90s to early ’00s where some great players worked, e.g. Gene Bertoncini and Michael Moore, and the wonderful trio of John Bunch, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Jay Leonhart.

“Kelly’s Stable was another one on the old 52nd St. I have a 1947 issue of The New Yorker somewhere that I will try to dig up to see what others of that era were listed. There was a spacious room in the basement level of the Empire State Building for a time in the ’70s – I remember hearing Sy Oliver’s big band there – but I can’t remember the name; you entered on the southwest corner of 5th and 34th and walked downstairs.”


I am still looking into a few of these suggestions, and some have already been added to the map. Keep ’em coming! It’s fascinating hearing about these places. Also useful have been the old scanned copies of New York Magazine available online.

Here’s the map again: