John Haley Sims

Biography by

A saxophonist known as the "Sultan of Swing," Zoot Sims was an international star on the jazz circuit. Throughout his musical career, Zoot Sims played with such band legends as Benny Goodman, Stan Getz,…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

A saxophonist known as the "Sultan of Swing," Zoot Sims was an international star on the jazz circuit. Throughout his musical career, Zoot Sims played with such band legends as Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Woody Herman, and Gerry Mulligan. He was a musician adored by his fans and respected and admired by his colleagues. His well-known recordings include "Them There Eyes," "Call It Anything," and "Great Drums."

John Haley Sims was born in Inglewood, CA. Zoot Sims taught himself to play the saxophone after being influenced by Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, and Lester Young. As a teenager, he worked in a Los Angeles band with Ken Baker. He received the nickname "Zoot" from Ken Baker, who used to put nicknames on the music stands. John Haley Sims stood behind "Zoot" and the name stuck. Just like many jazz musicians in the '30s and '40s, Sims' professional career began with the big bands. In 1943, he played with the Benny Goodman Band. At the age of 17, he joined Bobby Sherwood's band, with extensive experience already in the bands of Benny Goodman and Sonny Dunham. With musicians Stan Getz, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff, Sims was a member of the Four Brothers. It wasn't until 1950 that he began a solo professional career.

With a saxophone named "Sidney," he developed a style all his own. Sims was known for his boisterous, energetic music. In 1956 he traveled with the Gerry Mulligan sextet, on a trip that took the ensemble to Europe. Also in 1956 he released an album on the Dawn record label. It included such songs as "Down at the Loft," "Ghost of a Chance," "Dark Clouds," and "The Purple Cow." These songs represented a musician in transition. He was gradually getting away from the sound of his favorite musicians and developing a style of his own. His cause was helped on this album by fellow musicians Bob Brookmeyer on the trombone, pianist John Williams, and Jerry Lloyd on the trumpet.

During the '60s, Sims was recording and performing concerts worldwide. In 1962 he traveled again with the Benny Goodman Band to Russia. After a tiring tour, Sims' career slowed down a bit. From 1963 to 1969 he performed in New York's nightclub The Half Note with pianist Dave Frishberg.

Throughout his career, he worked with Al Cohn and Woody Herman, performing and traveling with them off and on. The trio sang such big-band hits as "Not So Deep" and "You're My Girl." After four decades of playing with different bands, Sims was known not only for his lively renditions but also for his charismatic personality and sense of humor. He was flattered beyond belief when the Muppets came out with "Zoot," the saxophone-playing Muppet. He bragged he was the only musician who had a Muppet named after him. He was well-known and highly regarded as a jazz musician. Zoot Sims died in 1985 in California.