05.04. – Happy Birthday !!! Stanley William Turrentine was one of the most distinctive tenor saxophonists in jazz. Known for his big, warm, sound, “The Sugar Man” or the original “Mr. T” found inspiration in the blues and turned it into a hugely successful career with a #1 hit and four Grammy nominations — first in R&B and then in jazz.
Born on April 5, 1934 in Pittsburgh, a city that has produced more than its share of jazz masters, Turrentine hailed from a musical family. His saxophone-playing father was a big influence, as was his stride piano-playing mother and older brother, the late trumpeter Tommy Turrentine.
One of Stanley’s earliest influences on sax was tenor great Illinois Jacquet. Jacquet once encouraged a 12-year old Stanley to sit in with him. At 17, Turrentine went on the road with bluesman Lowell Fulson. In 1953, he was hired by R&B saxman and bandleader Earl Bostic to replace John Coltrane.
A consummate musician who learned his craft through disparate experiences and influences, Turrentine received his only formal musical training during his military stint in the mid-’50s. In 1959, he jumped from the frying pan into the fire when he left the military and went straight into the band of the great drummer Max Roach.
Turrentine married organist Shirley Scott (left) in 1960. When they moved to Philadelphia, they befriended Hammond B-3 organ legend Jimmy Smith and Turrentine quickly immersed himself in the Smith’s soulful jazz organ sound. He even recorded on Jimmy’s epochal Blue Note album Midnight Special.
The organ-centered soul-jazz that Jimmy Smith and Shirley Scott concocted provided Turrentine the perfect gateway to cross over into pop territory. His first foray in this new, more radio-friendly music began in 1969 when he signed with Creed Taylor’s slick and successful CTI label.
Turrentine’s first album for CTI, Sugar, was released in 1970 and yielded the classic tune of the same name. He continued with a string a pop-laced crossover albums for CTI including the 1971 hit Don’t Mess with Mr. T. His relative success, despite his continued ability to deliver in the straight-ahead jazz vein, led to a predictable critical backlash. Listen to L.A. Times jazz critic Don Heckman, bassist Ray Brown, and Stanley talk about the critical backlash he received after making pop-oriented hit albums
Nevertheless, Turrentine persevered on the ever-changing landscape of jazz, by tapping into his enduring, soulful sound and bluesy approach. He remained a perennial favorite among jazz fans well up to his untimely death on Sept. 12, 2000.