May 27, 2024

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Zoot Sims recorded just two albums with pianist George Handy: Video, Photos

Tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims recorded just two albums with pianist George Handy (and a third that Handy composed and arranged).

You may recall that I last posted about Handy back in March, when I explored his two orchestral albums. His two albums with Sims are extraordinary and give us a chance to hear Handy in action in a combo setting. But these albums offer more, since we also hear Handy’s compositions and his arranging.

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The first album was Zoot!, featuring Nick Travis (tp), Sims (ts, as-), Handy (p,arr), Wilbur Ware (b) and Osie Johnson (d). It was recorded for Riverside in December 1956. What makes the album special are the songs by Handy—Why Cry?. Echoes of You, Swim Jim, and Here and Now. Of the remaining three, two are the standards—Fools Rush in (Where Angels Fear to Tread) and Taking a Chance of Love—and the last is Osmosis by drummer Osie Johnson. Handy’s writing had a catchy, lyrical bounce and plenty of velocity. All four of Handy’s songs were perfect platforms for Sims and Travis to play pretty and go at each other. As for Handy, he offers up compelling chords and plays them hard and with zest behind Sims and Travis throughout.

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The second Sims-Handy album was Zoot Sims Plays Four Altos. It features Sims multi-tracked on four altos—which means he recorded his main part and then recorded three additional harmony parts right on top. He was joined by Handy (p), Nabil “Knobby” Totah (b) and Nick Stabulas (d). The album was recorded In January 1957 for ABC-Paramount and was produced by Creed Taylor.

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This is an extraordinary album. Essentially it’s a Zoot Sims alto-sax section arranged by Handy, who composed all of the songs. I’m guessing that the success of the multi-tracking experiment here that allowed Sims to play all four sax parts helped pioneer the concept for Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’s Sing a Song of Basie, also produced by Creed in late ’57. [Photo above of George Handy by William P. Gottlieb]

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Plays Four Altos is a knockout reed feast. Handy’s songs and arrangements are sterling, and Sims’s playing is absolutely sublime. Best of all, the reeds are tightly scored, so Sims’s smooth tone and swinging feel are captured four times. And then there’s Handy’s urgent piano playing, which supports and pushes Sims along. A shame Sims, Handy and Creed didn’t record another one or two of these. Years ago, saxophonist Hal McKusick (and Handy’s pal) told me, “George’s charts for Zoot Sims Plays Four Altos were outstanding and good forever!”

And how.

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The third album, Zoot Sims Plays Alto, Tenor And Baritone, doesn’t feature Handy on piano but it includes his compositions and arrangements. It was recorded for Creed’s ABC-Paramount in 1956.

Zoot Sims died in 1985 and George Handy died in 1997.

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