It is at the "Cherry Blossom" in the heart of Kansas City that occurred the most famoux jam session of the history of jazz. The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra had just finished a concert and, exhausted, their star sax player, Coleman Hawkins, fell asleep in the lobby. At that time, his style dominated the field. Not to be outdone, Ben Webster, Hershell Evans and Lester Young, veterans of jam, decided to meet at the "Cherry Blossom" to challenge "The Falcon".
Coleman Hawkins was awakene and told that three sax players were
walting for him on stage. He picked up his tenor sax and joined them. The "musical debate" lasted for hours until, finally, the clear melodious sound of Lester Young (nicknamed "Prez" for president) won out, to the great satisfaction of a crowd always in quest of new heroes.
From then on, the history of the saxophone is twofold. Two styles of play were pitted for many years until John Haley Sims came along tu cut across the battle lines and blend the two styles.
Born in Inglewood, California, in 1925, Zoot Sims has been a major influence in the field, exactly because he would not be catalogued.
Let's follow the evolution of his career.
On December 16, 1950, Zoot Sims is to cut a recording for Prestige Studios. His back-up consists .of John Lewis, piano, Curly Russel, bass, and Don Lamond, drums.
It's Zoot's first experience as leader and the number is "My Silent Love". After its release and because of the lyrical quality of the interpretation, critics labelled Zoot as Lester Young's heir apparent.
In 1948, Zoot Sims met saxophonist Al Cohn when the two of them were playing for Woody Herman adn, during the late 50's, the two friends made the rounds of the New York clubs. Zoot's playing is different, the tonal quality deeper. A recording with Texas sax player Booker Ervin is evidence to this evolution.
One of the most beautiful albums ever recorded was cut at RCA's New York studio on October 28, 1977. Pianist Jimmy Rowles chose most of the numbers for it. "If l'm Lucky" is a monument to Zoot Sims' artistry. It's a perfect blend of lyricism and strength, the notes so clear that one can't help but feel that "This is Art in its purest form". Should there be doubt, let Sonny Rollins, the man who knows, dispell "I was playing at the Bridland with Miles Davis one night. Our alternates were Zoot, Stan Getz and Brew Moore. What they were playing was okay but Zoot was way better than the others...".
All the musicians in this group have been in and around the Ontario jazz scene for many years. Under the able leadership of guitarist Olivier Whitehead, this quintet offers a style of music that could be called "jazz at the crossroads".