Hidden Gems: “Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers”

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Within the jazz world, there are a number of lesser-known albums that – despite not receiving a great deal of acclaim – nonetheless rank among some of the classic jazz albums. Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers is one such hidden gem which is enjoying some revival in popularity, thanks to a recent reissue by Concord Records.

History

Zoot Sims (R) founded a successful quartet alongside fellow tenor saxophonist Al Cohn (L).

By the time this record was recorded in 1975, Zoot Sims had been on the jazz scene for over thirty years; most of Sims’ time was spent playing in big bands headed by Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman, and many others. Most notably, Sims was part of Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers” saxophone section, which also featured Stan Getz, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff. In the 1950s, Sims formed a group with fellow saxophonist Al Cohn, which saw many successful recording and touring dates throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers was the first album for Sims on Norman Granz’s Pablo Records, a company Granz founded in 1973, ten years after he sold his previous jazz records to MGM. The relatively new record label boasted an early all-star cast that included greats such as Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, Ella Fitzgerald and many others.

The Album

Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers features a monster band: Sims on tenor, Oscar Peterson on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, George Mraz on bass, and Grady Tate on drums. The record, as the title suggests, features stellar performances of eleven different Gershwin tunes.

Produced by legendary producer Norman Granz and released on Granz’s Pablo Records in 1975, the album received positive reviews, with some critics hailing it as the best work of Sims’ career. Among the highlights of the record are an up-tempo rendition of “The Man I Love,” a breathtaking rendition of “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” and perhaps the greatest recording of the swing standard “Lady Be Good.”

Zoot Sims was the perfect tenor player to make a record of old standards: he was a bit of an old soul, drawing heavily on Lester Young, but played with a youthful exuberance and energy that rivaled anybody else in jazz history. Throw in the fact that Sims was joined by one of the greatest rhythm sections ever recorded, featuring jazz legends Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass, and a great record is expected and delivered.

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          February 10, 2018