John Haley “Zoot” Sims (October 29, 1925 – March 23, 1985) was an American jazz saxophonist, playing mainly tenor and soprano. He was born in Inglewood, California, the son of vaudeville performers Kate Haley and John Sims. Growing up in a performing family, Sims learned to play both drums and clarinet at an early age. His father was a vaudeville hoofer, and Sims prided himself on remembering many of the steps his father taught him. Following in the footsteps of Lester Young, Sims developed into an innovative tenor saxophonist. Throughout his career, he played with renowned bands, including Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, and Buddy Rich. Sims replaced his idol Ben Webster in Sid Catlett’s Quartet in 1944. 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. 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 the New York club The Half Note. 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. Zoot Sims died in New York on March 23, 1985.
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