Zoot Sims

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Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims 1976.jpg
Sims at the 52nd Street Jazz Fair in 1976
Background information
Birth nameJohn Haley Sims
Born(1925-10-29)October 29, 1925
Inglewood, California, U.S.
DiedMarch 23, 1985(1985-03-23) (aged 59)
New York City, U.S.
  • Musician
  • composer
Years active1944–85
Associated acts

John Haley "Zoot" Sims (October 29, 1925 – March 23, 1985) was an American jazz saxophonist, playing mainly tenor but also alto (and, later, soprano) saxophone. [1] He first gained attention in the "Four Brothers" sax section of Woody Herman's big band, afterward enjoying a long solo career, often in partnership with fellow saxmen Gerry Mulligan and Al Cohn.



Sims was born in 1925 in Inglewood, California to vaudeville performers Kate Haley and John Sims. [2] His father was a vaudeville hoofer, and Sims prided himself on remembering many of the steps his father taught him. Growing up in a performing family, he learned to play drums and clarinet at an early age. His brother was the trombonist Ray Sims. [3]

Sims began on tenor saxophone at age 13. He initially modelled his playing on the work of Lester Young, Ben Webster, and Don Byas. By his late teens, having dropped out of high school, he was playing in big bands,starting with those of Kenny Baker and Bobby Sherwood. He joined Benny Goodman's band for the first time in 1943 (he was to rejoin in 1946, and continued to perform with Goodman on occasion through the early 1970s). Sims replaced Ben Webster in Sid Catlett's Quartet of 1944. [4] [5] In May of 1944, Sims made his recording debut for Commodore Records in a sextet led by pianist Joe Bushkin, who two months earlier had recorded for the same label as part of Lester Young's Kansas City Six.

Sims served as a corporal in the United States Army Air Force from 1944 to 1946, [5] then returned to music in the bands of Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, and Buddy Rich. He was one of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers". From 1954-1956 he toured with his friend Gerry Mulligan's sextet, and in the early 1960s, with Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band. [5] Sims played on some of Jack Kerouac's recordings. [6] From the late 1950s to the end of his life, Sims was primarily a freelancer, though he worked frequently in the 1960s and early 1970s with a group co-led with Al Cohn. In the 1970s and 1980s, he also played and recorded regularly with a handful of other musical partners including Bucky Pizzarelli, Joe Venuti, and Jimmy Rowles. In 1975, he began recording for Norman Granz's Pablo Records label. Sims appeared on more than 20 Pablo albums, mostly as a featured solo artist, but also as a backing musician for artists including Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, and Clark Terry. Between 1974 and 1983, Sims recorded six studio albums with pianist Jimmy Rowles in a quartet setting that critic Scott Yanow wrote feature Sims at his best. [7] [8]

Sims acquired the nickname "Zoot" early in his career while he was in the Kenny Baker band in California. "When he joined Kenny Baker's band as a fifteen-year-old tenor saxophonist, each of the music stands was embellished with a nonsense word. The one he sat behind said "Zoot." That became his name." [9]

Sims played a 30-second solo on the song "Poetry Man", written by singer Phoebe Snow on her debut eponymous album in 1974. [10] He also played on Laura Nyro's "Lonely Women", on her album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession . [11]

Sims' last studio recording was a November, 1984 trio session featuring bassist Red Mitchell, recorded in Sweden and released in 1985 by Sonet records. Zoot Sims died of lung cancer on March 23, 1985 in New York City, [4] and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, in Nyack, New York. [12]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Zoot Sims among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. [13]


Sims at Keystone Korner, San Francisco, California, 1983 Zoot Sims.jpg
Sims at Keystone Korner, San Francisco, California, 1983







As sideman

With Pepper Adams

With Trigger Alpert

With Chet Baker

With Count Basie

With Louie Bellson

With Clifford Brown

With Ray Charles

With the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band

With Al Cohn

With Chris Connor

With Miles Davis

With Kenny Dorham

With Jon Eardley

With Booker Ervin

With Bill Evans

With Art Farmer

With Curtis Fuller

With Benny Goodman

With Bobby Hackett

With Coleman Hawkins

With Woody Herman

With Jutta Hipp

With Chubby Jackson

With Quincy Jones

With Stan Kenton

With Jack Kerouac

With Irene Kral

With Elliot Lawrence

With Michel Legrand

With Stan Levey and Red Mitchell

With The Manhattan Transfer

With Gary McFarland

With Ted McNabb

With Carmen McRae

With the Metronome All-Stars

With Charles Mingus

With Red Mitchell

With Jack Montrose

With Gerry Mulligan

With Oliver Nelson

With Anita O'Day

With Bob Prince

With Buddy Rich and Lionel Hampton

With Shorty Rogers

With Jimmy Rushing

With Lalo Schifrin and Bob Brookmeyer

With Johnny Smith

With Phoebe Snow

With Sonny Stitt

With Clark Terry

With Sarah Vaughan

With Joe Venuti

With Chuck Wayne

With Joe Williams

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  1. "Zoot Sims". All About Jazz. Retrieved August 8, 2013.
  2. Archived October 26, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  3. Levinson, Peter J. (2005). September in the Rain: The Life of Nelson Riddle. Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 140.
  4. 1 2 Folkart, Burt A. "Saxophonist John Haley (Zoot) Sims Dies at 59". Los Angeles Times , March 24, 1985. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 Lankford, Ronald D., Jr. Zoot Sims Biography. musicianguide.com. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
  6. Smith, Sid (May 5, 2008). "Jack Kerouac with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims: Blues And Haikus". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2017-09-15.
  7. Cerra, Steven (2009-04-02). "Jazz Profiles: John Haley "Zoot" Sims - Part 3". Jazz Profiles. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  8. Yanow, Scott. "Warm Tenor". Allmujsic.com. AllMusic, Netaktion LLC.
  9. Cerra, Steven (2009-04-02). "Jazz Profiles: John Haley "Zoot" Sims - Part 3". Jazz Profiles. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  10. "Phoebe Snow - Phoebe Snow | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  11. Songfacts. "Lonely Women by Laura Nyro - Songfacts". www.songfacts.com. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  12. "Zoot Sims entry on Find A Grave". Find A Grave. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  13. Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  14. "Zoot Sims Avec Henri Renaud Et Son Orchestre Et Jon Eardley - Zoot Sims Avec Henri Renaud Et Son Orchestre Et Jon Eardley". Discogs. Retrieved 15 November 2017.