Zoot Sims

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Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims 1976.jpg
52nd Street Jazz Fair, New York, July 6, 1976
Background information
Birth name John Haley Sims
Born (1925-10-29)October 29, 1925
Inglewood, California, United States
Origin Queens, New York, United States
Died March 23, 1985(1985-03-23) (aged 59)
New York City, New York, United States
Genres Jazz, big band, cool jazz
Occupation(s) Saxophonist, composer
Instruments Tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone
Years active 1944-85
Labels Pablo, Verve, Epic, Mercury
Associated acts Woody Herman, Al Cohn, Joe Venuti, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson, Jack Kerouac, Bob Brookmeyer, Count Basie, Art Pepper, Jim Hall, Annie Ross, Scott Hamilton,
Notable instruments
Radio Improved Selmer

John Haley "Zoot" Sims (October 29, 1925 - March 23, 1985) was an American jazz saxophonist, playing mainly tenor and soprano.[1] He first gained attention in the "Four Brothers" sax section of Woody Herman's big band, then went on to a long solo career, often in partnership with fellow saxman Al Cohn or trombonist Bob Brookmeyer.


Zoot Sims at Keystone Korner, San Francisco CA 1983

He was born in Inglewood, California, the son of 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, Sims learned to play both drums and clarinet at an early age. His brother was trombonist Ray Sims.[3]

Following in the footsteps of Lester Young, Sims developed into an innovative tenor saxophonist. Throughout his career, he played with big bands, starting with those of Kenny Baker and Bobby Sherwood after dropping out of high school after one year. He played with Benny Goodman's band in 1943 and replaced his idol Ben Webster in Sid Catlett's Quartet in 1944.[4][5]

Sims served 1944-46 as a corporal in the United States Army Air Force,[5][6] then moved on to such renowned bands as those of Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, and Buddy Rich. Sims was also one of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers", and he was known among his peers as one of the strongest swingers in the field. He frequently led his own combos and sometimes toured with his friend Gerry Mulligan's sextet, and later with Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band. Sims rejoined Goodman in 1962 for a tour of the Soviet Union.[5]

In the 1950s and '60s, Sims had a long, successful partnership as co-leader of a quintet with Al Cohn, which recorded under the name "Al and Zoot". That group was a favorite at New York City's Half Note Club. Always fond of the higher register of the tenor sax, Zoot also liked to play alto and late in his career added the soprano saxophone to his performances, while recording a series of albums for the Pablo Records label of impresario Norman Granz. Zoot also played on some of Jack Kerouac's recordings.

Sims acquired the nickname "Zoot" early in his career while he was in the Kenny Baker band in California. The name was later appropriated for a sax-playing Muppet.

Sims played a 30-second solo on the song "Poetry Man," written by vocalist/guitarist Phoebe Snow on her debut eponymous album in 1975.

Zoot Sims died in New York City of cancer on March 23, 1985,[4] and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Nyack, New York.[6]


As sideman[edit]

With Pepper Adams

With Trigger Alpert

With Chet Baker

With Louis Bellson

With Clifford Brown

  • Jazz Immortal (Pacific Jazz, 1954)

With the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band

With Al Cohn

With Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Oscar Peterson

With Art Farmer

With Curtis Fuller

With Quincy Jones

With Stan Kenton

With Jack Kerouac

With Carmen McRae

With the Metronome All-Stars

With Charles Mingus

With Jack Montrose

With Gerry Mulligan

With Oliver Nelson

With Anita O'Day

With Lalo Schifrin and Bob Brookmeyer

With Shorty Rogers

With Sonny Stitt

With Clark Terry

With Sarah Vaughan

With Phoebe Snow

With Joe Williams


  1. ^ "Zoot Sims". All About Jazz. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  2. ^ [1] Archived October 26, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Peter J. Levinson, September in the Rain: The Life of Nelson Riddle, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2005, p. 140.
  4. ^ a b Burt A. Folkart, "Saxophonist John Haley (Zoot) Sims Dies at 59", obituary in Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1985, retrieved February 1, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Ronald D. Lankford Jr., Zoot Sims biography, at musicianguide.com, retrieved February 1, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Zoot Sims at Find a Grave

External links[edit]