The Great Zoot Sims – “Down Home” – Bethlehem Records mono

The Great Zoot Sims – “Down Home” – Bethlehem Records mono BCP-6051 41:29 [Distr. By Naxos] ****: 

(Zoot Sims – tenor sax; Dave McKenna – piano; George Tucker – bass; Dannie Richmond – drums)

Doug Ramsay in his book entitled Jazz Matters: Reflections of the Music and Some of Its Makers offers the following assessment about Zoot Sims: ”He was the most dependable and consistent of tenor saxophonists.  Never dull, never predictable, he symbolized the spirit of jazz”. In this 1960 session for Bethlehem Records called Down Home the title could not have been more appropriate.

Zoot Sims’ name first started to pop up in a recognizable way when he was a member of Woody Herman’s orchestra in 1946-47 which later became known as the “Four Brothers” band due to the recognizable sound of the saxophone section composed of Stan Getz, Herbie Steward, Serge Chaloff and Sims. By the time this Down Home session was recorded, Sims had been a freelance musician for many years, although he still did big band work from time to time including the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band.

With this quartet outing, the group takes up compositions from the swing era, each of which fits into Sims strength as a soloist. Furthermore, the pianist on tap is Dave McKenna in one of his very early recordings, and we get a glimpse of the rousing two-handed driving player he was to eventually become. Using the Harry Edison/Count Basie 1939 jump tune “Jive At Five” as the opener, the band takes off in a brighter tempo than the original version without compromising the intent. McKenna stakes out his territory with some strong single note playing using the whole keyboard and Sims drives ahead as expected. “Doggin’ Around” picks up the pace with Sims soaring in the opening choruses laying the framework for McKenna to set the stage for a series of exchanges between Sims and drummer Dannie Richmond with Zoot then taking the tune out in furious fashion.

Although “Avalon” had been introduced by Al Jolson in 1920 (he was also the composer along with Buddy De Sylva and Vincent Rose) it was really the Benny Goodman Quartet’s swing version in 1938 that made this song more prominent. Not to be outdone Sims and the group take up the challenge to make their intentions known, with McKenna pulling out all the stops with a buoyant second chorus.

Although Zoot Sims was a Lester Young acolyte, he was also influenced by the big gruff tone of Ben Webster. So regardless of the track on which you drop the laser beam, or the needle, or the mouse, be it “Bill Bailey”, “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” or the Zoot Sims original composition, “I’ve Heard That Blues Before,” you will hear those antecedents at play while Zoot swings out for all he’s worth.

TrackList: Jive At Five; Doggin’ Around; Avalon; I Cried For You; Bill Bailey; Goodnight, Sweetheart; There’ll Be Some Changes Made; I’ve Heard That Blues Before

—Pierre Giroux

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