Zoot Sims

Zoot Sims

Tenor Sax icon Tenor Sax

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March 23, 1985 (Age 59) died

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October 29, 1925 Birthday

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Inglewood, California, U.S. Birthplace

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Zoot Sims was a jazz saxophonist known for his mellow tone and sense of swing. He began his career while still a teenager playing with Benny Goodman's band and would periodically work with Goodman throughout his career. Sims gained wider attention as one of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers" in the late 1940s and then went on tour with Gerry Mulligan's band. For the the bulk of his career he worked as a freelancer, playing with Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, Sarah Vaughn, and Count Basie among others. Sims also led his own groups and co-led the Zoot Sims – Al Cohn Quintet. Zoot Sims continued recording into the 1980s until his death from lung cancer in 1985 at the age of 59.


Zoot Sims got his nickname while playing with Ken Baker; other members of the band were known as Scoot and Voot. Zoot Sims served as a corporal in the United States Army Air Force from 1944 to 1946. Throughout his career Zoot Sims primarily played tenor but began doubling on the alto in the 1970s and can occasionally be heard on the baritone or soprano saxophone.

Early Life

Zoot Sims was born John Haley Sims in Inglewood, California in 1929. Both of his parents were vaudeville performers and his older brother, Ray, would grow up to become a professional jazz trombonist. Sims learned to play the drums and clarinet at an early age and added the tenor saxophone when he was 13. Initially inspired by Lester Young, Sims developed his own sound and was working professionally by age 15. He played with several big bands before joining Benny Goodman's band in 1943.