Zoot Sims (John Haley Sims)

Zoot Sims

John Haley “Zoot” Sims (October 29, 1925 – March 23, 1985) was an American jazz saxophonist, playing mainly tenor but also alto and later soprano. He first gained attention in the “Four Brothers” sax section of Woody Herman’s big band, after which he went on to a long solo career, often in partnership with fellow saxmen Gerry Mulligan and Al Cohn or the trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. Zoot Sims was born in Inglewood, California, the son of vaudeville performers Kate Haley and John Sims. His father was a vaudeville hoofer, and Sims prided himself on remembering many of the steps his father taught him. Growing up in a performing family, he learned to play drums and clarinet at an early age. His brother was the trombonist Ray Sims. Following in the footsteps of Lester Young, Sims developed into an innovative tenor saxophonist. Throughout his career, he played with big bands, starting with those of Kenny Baker and Bobby Sherwood after dropping out of high school after one year. He played with Benny Goodman’s band in 1943 and replaced his idol Ben Webster in Sid Catlett’s Quartet in 1944. Zoot Sims served as a corporal in the United States Army Air Force from 1944 to 1946, then returned to music in the bands of Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, and Buddy Rich. He was one of Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers”. He frequently led his own combos and toured with his friend Gerry Mulligan’s sextet, and later with Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band. Sims rejoined Goodman in 1962 for a tour of the Soviet Union.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Sims had a long, successful partnership as co-leader of a quintet with Al Cohn, which recorded under the name “Al and Zoot”. The group was a favorite at New York City’s Half Note Club. Always fond of the higher register of the tenor sax, he also played alto and late in his career added soprano saxophone to his performances, while recording a series of albums for the Pablo Records label of the impresario Norman Granz. He also played on some of Jack Kerouac’s recordings. Zoot Sims acquired the nickname “Zoot” early in his career while he was in the Kenny Baker band in California.[citation needed]. The name was later appropriated for a sax-playing Muppet. Sims played a 30-second solo on the song “Poetry Man,” written by singer Phoebe Snow on her debut eponymous album in 1975. Zoot Sims died in New York City of cancer on March 23, 1985, and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, in Nyack, New York.

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  • October, 29, 1925
  • USA
  • Inglewood, California


  • March, 23, 1985
  • USA
  • New York, New York

Cause of Death

  • cancer


  • Oak Hill Cemetery
  • Nyack, New York
  • USA

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