Zoot Sims - If I'm Lucky

Zoot Sims If I’m Lucky (Pablo 1977)

Go back to when you started discovering this thing that they called jazz. Pablo records like If I’m Lucky featuring Jimmy Rowles by Zoot Sims would serve as a perfect introduction.

Zoot Sims - If I'm Lucky


Zoot Sims (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Rowles (piano), George Mraz (bass), Mousie Alexander (drums)


on October 27 & 28, 1976 at RCA Recording Studio, New York City


as Pablo 2310-803 in 1977

Track listing

Side A:
(I Wonder) Where Our Love Has Gone
If I’m Lucky
Shadow Waltz
Side B:
You’re My Everything
It’s Alright With Me
Gypsy Sweetheart
I Hear A Rhapsody

Zoot is like a big brother that protects you from the bullies in class. Jimmy is a rascal, the interim teacher’s worst nightmare.

Zoot Sims gained notoriety as part of the Four Brothers section in the Woody Herman band in the late 1940’s. The tenor saxophonist, influenced by Lester Young and Ben Webster, recorded prolifically on various labels and was an admired presence on the American scene and European festivals till the end of his life in 1985. Why “Zoot”? Contrary to what you may think, it has nothing to do with the ‘zoot suit’. (Of course, somebody would inevitably play with the words, see the album Zoot Suite, a live registration with the same line-up as If I’m Lucky that you can listen to below on Spotify) It was because of a nonsense word that was written on his music stand in the band of the long-forgotten Kenny Baker when he was 15 years old. Real name is John. Can’t beat Zoot, sorry John.

If there is any artist a jazz aficionado should recommend to a newcomer that has to date shied away from that ‘nervy’ thing called jazz, it should be Zoot Sims. That guy had the loveliest and finest of velvet sounds. His sound was big, round, a bit smoky, a cross between a field of roses and a Cuban cigar. He was a lyrical player and a giant swinger, balancing his phrases with the ease and passion of a Japanese oldie that works away at his bonsai tree. Major-league ear candy.

From John to Jimmy. No nickname as far as I know. Could be “Billie’s Boy”. Why not? Rowles was the favorite accompanist of virtually all great singers: Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Diane Krall. The Peacocks, recorded with Stan Getz in 1977, is his signature tune. A strikingly original and perennially underrated giant.

They were buddies-in-jazz that made six albums together, three of those on Pablo, the label of impresario Norman Granz, legendary organizer of the pioneering Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts in the 1940’s and label boss of Norgran/Verve. Pablo was a haven for the giants of jazz, founded at a time when mainstream jazz was at a low point in the USA. Europe and Japan were the places to find work. Many legends who recorded on Pablo, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Joe Pass, profited from the continental fascination with jazz.

Throughout If I’m Lucky, Zoot Sims hypnotizes us with his soothing sounds. He thrives on medium tempos and the ballad form. To be sure, he’s a reliable uptempo player, spreading his mighty wings and flying like an eagle through the changes of It’s Alright With Me. Rowles is teasing him with lingering chords and a sudden burst of trillers. The pianist lets his accompanying sounds of surprise segue into his solo, which, developing from a bold run of descending lines to sparse staccato chords and ‘out’ notes that sound alright with me, is like an abstract painting. The way Rowles defies the laws of harmony yet continues to tell a beautiful, strangely balanced story is wholly enticing.

The kind of pianist that makes you jump from your seat. Neal Hefti’s Legs is another fantastic Cubist painting by Rowles. Rowles knew more tunes from the Great American Songbook than anybody. Which likely is why the obscure Gypsy Sweetheart was included. Ever heard another version of this tune? Not me, to be honest. Please do chime in. Plenty sessions have benefited from The “Rowles Songbook”.

This is a great session. Zoot and Billie’s Boy make up for quite an irresistible duo.

Listen to If I’m Lucky on YouTube here.

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