Jazz saxophonists had a field day with the bossa nova in 1962. The jazz-Brazilian folk experiments first undertaken by alto saxophonist Bud Shank and guitarist Laurindo Almeida in the early and late 1950s became a winning formula for jazz in the spring of 1962. With Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's Jazz Samba LP racing up the charts, many established jazz saxophonists took a shot at the new beat with great success. In May 1962, alto saxophonist Leo Wright recorded No More Blues with Dizzy Gillespie. Coleman Hawkins and Gene Ammons recorded bossa albums in September. Ike Quebec was next in October followed by Cannonball Adderley in December. But among the finest jazz-bossa nova entries recorded in 1962 were a pair by Zoot Sims. Both have been virtually forgotten.
Sims' New Beat Bossa Nova: Samba Swings (Vol. 1) was recorded in August, just a week after the tenor saxophonist's appearance on Bill Evans Interplay date. New Beat Bossa Nova: Samba Swings (Vol. 2) was recorded three months later in November, shortly after Sims worked with Charles Mingus on the bassist's Town Hall Concert, 1962. Both of Sims' bossa nova albums were recorded for Colpix, a label started by Columbia Pictures-Screen Gems that by 1962 was recording Nina Simone and teen pop groups.
What makes Sims' bossa nova albums special are the breezy arrangements by Manny Albam and Al Cohn, the inclusion of Jim Hall [pictured] on lead guitar and, of course, Sims' spun-gold saxophone lines. On both albums, the arrangements feature two or more fluttering flutes on top with soft, surfy percussion on the bottom. Sims and Hall operate fluidly in the middle. Sims completely understood the new Brazilian genre and offered easy-going lines without too much push. There's nothing like hearing Sims romp playfully here with Hall's guitar and a team of flutes.
Volume 1 features eight Brazilian tunes, including Djalma Ferreira's Recado Bossa Nova and four by composer Carlos Lyra. Sims attacks each with leg-dangling ease. Unlike Getz, who tended to work his horn's upper register on bossa recordings, hurling line after imaginative line like spears, Sims lingers on notes and swings the middle of the instrument, providing a slightly different flavor. The band on the first volume features Spencer Sinatra (flute), Ron Odrich (flute, clarinet), Phil Woods (clarinet, alto sax), Gene Quill (alto sax, clarinet), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Jim Hall and Kenny Burrell (guitar), Art Davis (bass), Sol Gubin (drums) and Ted Sommer and Willie Rodriguez (percussion).
Volume 2 is comprised of mostly jazz standards set to a bossa nova beat. The track lineup includes Bernie's Tune, Tickle Toe, They Call the Wind Maria, Look Down That Lonesome Road and Nature Boy. There's also an original, Instant Samba, on which Sims and Hall play on top of each other, note for note, and the sound resonates like a bell. The band here features Spencer Sinatra, Ron Odrich, Jerry Sanfino and Phil Bodner (flutes and clarinets,) Sol Schlinger (clarinet), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Jim Hall and Barry Galbraith (guitars), Milt Hinton (bass) and Willie Rodriguez, Sol Gubin, Tommy Lopez and Ted Sommer (percussion).
It's easy to dismiss jazz artists' 1962 bossa nova efforts as lightweight attempts to cash in. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the case of Sims, these two recordings with Jim Hall and other top-notch jazz artists are stunningly beautiful and certainly on par with Getz and Byrd's Jazz Samba.
JazzWax tracks: Both Zoot Sims bossa nova albums have been issued on one CD—Zoot Sims: Bossa Nova Sessions (Westside UK). Used copies are going for $11 here. They also are available on Recado Bossa Nova: Zoot Sims (Fresh Sound) here for about the same price from independent sellers. These two compilations also may be available at eMusic.com and other online music-download sites.
JazzWax notes: Reader David Langer tells me that the first Colpix LP came with bossa nova dance instructions!