Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sims Swings Sambas

A journeyman tenor player who, according to those who know, never played a false note. John "Zoot" Sims in the '70s, about a decade after he recorded for Colpix. Unknown photographer 
I never thought much of Zoot Sims in my early days of collecting, mostly because I'd never really heard him. There were no records available, or very few anyway. I was into Archie Shepp, Coltrane, Booker Ervin, Dolphy and Ornette – the avant garde. Their LPs were hard to find too, but Zoot was all but invisible when it came vinyl. In the early '70s anyway.

But later on – much later on – I met and got to know some dedicated veterans of the jazz life, and to a man they all worshipped Mr. Sims. One in particular, a tenor player who had worked in Lionel Hampton's big band and maybe in Kenton's too, never went anywhere without his case of Zoot records. This guy – Milt Hissler was his name – never really lived anywhere, camping in hotels mostly, on the road constantly, everything he owned fitting into several neatly packed suitcases. But he took the trouble to have Sims with him always. A real testament.

What inspired Zoot Sims' colleagues to hold him in such high regard? I suppose it was because of his selfless dedication to his art form, and to the unmatched quality and consistency of his work. A disciple of the President, Zoot was no "repeater pencil." His interpretation of Lester's laconic, endlessly inventive Kansas City choruses was his own. And because he was no enigma, more approachable than Lester could ever be, he attracted a following of those who would be like Basie's star soloist but who lacked the requisite talent (and that would be nearly everybody).

In the early '60s, an unknown kid named Paul Winter sold a lot of Columbia records with jazz in a style from Brazil called "bossa nova." Stan Getz picked up its cool, sophisticated slink and hit big on the pop charts with "Girl from Ipanema" in 1964. In between, Zoot Sims was enlisted in an effort to sell the "new beat" to jazz fans by a non-jazz label called Colpix.

An imprint of Columbia Pictures, Colpix featured pop artists, many of whom worked for the parent company in movies or on TV. The label's jazz output, though often of high quality, was minimal, and sales may have suffered due to somewhat indifferent jacket graphics and liner notes. But in August of 1962, Colpix invested heavily in a session by Zoot Sims, and the results were excellent. Classic Zoot: melodic, flawlessly executed and swinging.

Here are Vols. 1 and 2 of "New Beat Bossa Nova," a Zoot Sims release featuring arrangements by Manny Albam and Al Cohn (Zoot's musical alter-ego). Guitarist Jim Hall isn't mentioned on the front covers, but he deserves second billing – the albums feature him as much as they do Zoot. One LP consists of Brazilian originals, the other of familiar jazz and pop numbers given the samba treatment. Note that Zoot pays tribute to Lester with an unlikely bossa treatment of Prez's "Tickle Toe."

As always, these tunes were ripped from the original LPs with no enhancement other than a light cleaning up of minor surface noise.

New Beat Bossa Nova, Colpix CP 435
Zoot Sims, ts; Jim Hall, g; Spencer Sinatra, pic, fl, al fl; Phil Woods, cl; Gene Quill, cl, b cl; Ronnie Odrich, fl, cl; Kenny Burrell, g; Art Davis, b; Sol Gubin, Ted Sommer, Willie Rodriguez, perc; Manny Albam, Al Cohn, arr.
New York, NY; August 20, 1962

1. Recado Bossa Nova, Pt. 1
2. Recado Bossa Nova, Pt. 2
3. Cano Canoe
4. Contando a Orquestra
5. Ciume
6. Maria Ninguen
7. Sem Saudades de Voce
8. Barquinho de Papel 

New Beat Bossa Nova, Vol. 2, Colpix CP 437
Zoot Sims, ts; Jim Hall, g; Jerry Sanfino, fl; Spencer Sinatra, pic, fl, al fl; Phil Bodner, fl; Sol Schlinger, b cl; Ronnie Odrich, fl, cl; Barry Galbraith, g; Milt Hinton, b; Sol Gubin, Ted Sommer, Willie Rodriguez, Tommy Lopez, perc; Manny Albam, Al Cohn, arr.
New York, NY; August 1962

9. Bernie's Tune
10. Poquito Cantando
11. Tickle Toe
12. Lonesome Road
13. Instant Samba
14. They Call the Wind Maria
15. Lover Come Back to Me
16. Nature Boy
17. Reaching for the Moon
18. Don't Fool with Love

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