"In the summer of 1960, when I was 20 years old, a buddy and I drove from our home near Toronto, Canada, to Boston and then south to New York City for a two-week vacation. On a Saturday morning, we drove down from Boston to Cape Cod, Mass., and up to Provincetown to explore. When we arrived, we walked by a place called the Atlantic House and noticed a sign advertising the Zoot Sims Quartet.
"We knew the group was worth hearing, so we slipped into the funky near-deserted bar. There on the stage was Zoot Sims on tenor sax with Bob Whitlock on bass, Dannie Richmond on drums and a piano player whose name, for some reason, I can't recall. They had been joined by Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax and Nick Travis on trumpet, both up from New York for the weekend.
"A hell of a band, swinging like crazy, having fun—and there were maybe six people in the place to hear them! I went to the car for my Kodak Hawkeye camera with three flashbulbs left (boy, those were primitive times!). When I returned, I sat right in front of the bandstand and snapped three action shots—no doubt temporarily blinding Mulligan. You can see Zoot's disapproving expression in one shot.
"We left after maybe an hour and a single beer. There still weren't more than half a dozen people in the place. Jazz has always had a rough ride.
"I began playing bass in high school in Hamilton, Ontario, in the late 50's. I loved jazz, and had memorized every phrase of Paul Desmond’s heart-breaking solo on the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Makin' Time. After high school I got a job writing copy with an ad agency, playing jazz and dance-band gigs on weekends.
"My friend Dave Barker, a guitarist and also a jazz fan, had recently purchased a 1957 Meteor convertible, Meteor being a slightly upscale and rebranded Ford for the Canadian market. We checked out Boston and the sea coast before heading for the Cape, where we saw Sims.
"From there we motored to New York, arriving mid-week around midnight. Driving south on 7th Avenue, we swung right into Times Square just to drive past Birdland before finding a hotel room. Standing at the curb, chatting as though in their own living rooms, were Duke Ellington and Teddy Wilson. Wow—we really were in the big city!
"I took the following summer off to travel to Europe with a six-piece jazz group on the S.S. Seven Seas, a converted troop ship designed primarily as cheap transportation for college students travelling to Europe for summer vacation.
"Then the trio in our group decided to break off and head for Paris to gig. The drummer, a very smooth-talking guy, had gotten us an audition at the famed Blue Note.
"The Blue Note was featuring two bands that summer: One led by drummer Kenny Clarke with Rene Urtreger on piano, Bob Whitlock on bass, Jimmy Raney on guitar and Brew Moore on tenor—plus the Bud Powell trio.
"The audition went badly in part because the piano player was so nervous. When we finished the set, the piano player, knowing he blew the gig, went outside to hit his head against the wall. The drummer went to plead for a second audition. I stood on the bandstand holding my bass, between the two sets of drums.
"That's when a slight black man stepped onto the stand, followed by someone who sat at the second set of drums. The pianist was Bud Powell, who, it being time to start the gig, began a blues in F. The drummer started playing, there was no other bass player around, so what the hell—away I went.
"We must have done a dozen choruses with Bud being as brilliant as ever with his improvisations when I glanced up to see a very tall and very angry guy glaring at me, his bass in one hand. He was Bud’s regular bassist and I figured I was either caught up in Bud’s plan to punish him for being late or Bud just didn’t care as long as somebody was there with a bass.
"When I finished the tune, I stepped down off the stage without comment, stepping widely around the really pissed-off regular bass player. Bud then kicked into All The Things You Are without looking around. His bass player swung in after the first eight bars or so. That was my gig with Bud Powell who, I believe, had no idea who or what I was."
All band photos above by John Reynolds. ©John Reynolds—all rights reserved. All photos used here with the artist's permission.
JazzWax notes: In June 1960, Zoot Sims' recording quartet consisted of Zoot (ts), Dave McKenna (p), George Tucker (b) and Dannie Richmond (d). The group recorded Down Home for Bethlehem on June 7. The Provincetown gig likely was held during the July 4th weekend. Since May, Mulligan, Sims and Travis had been busy with Mulligan's Concert Band, which appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 1. By the following week, on July 13, Richmond was already in France with Charles Mingus recording Mingus at Antibes.
JazzWax clip: Here's what Zoot Sims and the quartet would have sounded like in June 1960...