Sonny Dallas

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Sonny Dallas was a bassist associated with the top end of complexity in modern jazz, providing a suitable and hopefully accurate harmonic framework for the improvisations of players such as alto saxophonists…
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Sonny Dallas was a bassist associated with the top end of complexity in modern jazz, providing a suitable and hopefully accurate harmonic framework for the improvisations of players such as alto saxophonists Lee Konitz and Phil Woods and pianist Lennie Tristano. The decision to call him simply "Sonny" certainly couldn't have developed out of a lack of alternatives: he was born Francis Dominic Joseph Dallas to a father who was both a pianist and vocalist. The father's attempts to pass along this interest to his children included singing lessons for the son to be called Sonny Dallas and trombone practice for his brother.

Pittsburgh bassist Herman Clements became Dallas' teacher in the late '40s. By 1954, Dallas had begun working with bandleaders such as Charlie Spivak, Ray Eberle, and Claude Thornhill. In the second half of the '50s the bassist relocated to New York City and somewhat faster company, at least in terms of on-stage tempos, with Woods, tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, alto saxophonist and clarinetist Gene Quill, and the fine guitarist Sal Salvador among his crowd of playing partners. In some contexts Dallas was also vocalizing; as the decade closed he became known for subtle associations with open-minded pianists such as Tristano and Mary Lou Williams.

Dallas had a superb reputation, with some bass hounds insisting nobody on earth articulated a quarter note like he does. If that is really the case then his discography seems slim, less than 20 sessions between the '50s and early '80s. A standout among the resulting sides is a quite spontaneous session involving Konitz and super drummer Elvin Jones, especially the CD reissue version, which provides lots of thrilling unissued takes. Dallas taught music classes on Long Island, led the Sonny Dallas Big Band, and continued to perform with major jazzmen such as Konitz up until shortly before his death in July 2007 at the age of 75.