Born John Haley Sims on Oct. 29, 1925 in Inglewood, CA, Zoot Sims played drums and clarinet as a child before switching to tenor saxophone at age 13. Inspired by Lester Young, he developed a velvety smooth tone on the instrument while also demonstrating an effortless sense of swing by age 15, when he landed his first professional job with Bobby Sherwood's Orchestra. He joined Benny Goodman's big band in 1943 and a year later recorded with Goodman's pianist, Joe Bushkin. After a stint in the Army, Sims returned to the Goodman band in 1946 before joining Woody Herman's Second Thundering Herd in 1947. He became one of the standout soloists in the sax section alongside baritone ace Serge Chaloff and fellow tenor players Herbie Steward and Stan Getz (they were immortalized by the Jimmy Giuffre tune, "Four Brothers").
Sims left Herman's band in 1949 and had brief stints with Buddy Rich's big band, Artie Shaw's band along with another term in Benny Goodman's band. He toured and recorded with Stan Kenton (1953) and Gerry Mulligan (1954-1956). He became a star soloist during the early '60s with Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band and also another edition of Benny Goodman's Orchestra. He recorded frequently as a leader through the '70s and into the early '80s for a variety of labels, including Pablo, Storyville, and Prestige. He died in New York on Mar 23, 1985 at age 59.
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