b. Andrew Simpkins, 29 April 1932, Richmond, Indiana, USA, d. 2 June 1999, Los Angeles, California, USA. After playing clarinet and piano, and studying at Wilberforce University, Simpkins switched to bass in the early 50s while serving in the US Army. After leaving the army, he played and recorded with various leaders, including Nat Adderley, and in 1956 he joined drummer Bill Dowdy’s group, the Four Sounds, in South Bend, Indiana. In 1957, unable to find a consistently available tenor saxophonist, the group mutated into a piano-bass-drums trio and with just Gene Harris, Simpkins and Dowdy, adjusted its name accordingly. The Three Sounds remained in operation until late in the following decade, making several well-received albums for Blue Note Records. Additionally, they occasionally served as the company’s house band, recording with Lou Donaldson and Stanley Turrentine among others. Meanwhile, Simpkins also played in west coast studio orchestras, working on a number of film soundtracks, notably 1967’s In Cold Blood, whereon he played a duet with fellow bass player Ray Brown, and recorded with several leaders, including Vic Feldman.
After the disbandment of the Three Sounds, Simpkins was with George Shearing for more than five years but meantime performed and recorded with other artists, including Clare Fischer, Carmen McRae and Joe Williams. During the rest of the 70s, he was with Monty Alexander, Stéphane Grappelli and others, and at the start of the next decade played with Buddy De Franco and Don Menza. In 1979, he became a member of Sarah Vaughan’s regular backing group but continued to perform and sometimes record with others and as leader of his own small groups. He continued playing through the 80s and 90s, working with many musicians in mainstream, bop and post-bop settings, among them being Ron Affif, Benny Carter, Scott Hamilton, Marian McPartland and Zoot Sims. A secure and able bass player, Simpkins exemplified the long tradition of the unheralded musician that audiences seldom appreciate but whose work is held in the highest possible esteem by his fellow musicians.