Sandy Mosse

Biography by

The man whose name sounds like a description of the ground near a brook was a jazz tenor saxophonist who is remembered fondly on both the Chicago and European jazz scenes. Several times in his life he…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

The man whose name sounds like a description of the ground near a brook was a jazz tenor saxophonist who is remembered fondly on both the Chicago and European jazz scenes. Several times in his life he left America for extended stays, eventually marrying a Dutch woman and fulfilling what is many an American musician's lifelong dream: to retire in Amsterdam. Not that Sandy Mosse ever really retired; he kept playing til the end, showing off a lovely fuzzy tone that he was personally happy to trace back to Lester Young, his first and biggest influence. Mosse's final decades were a battle against ill health, as he was first diagnosed with cancer in the '60s. The man who apparently coined the expression "oh well, you can't have anything" always managed to keep a good sense of humor concerning life's ups and downs, as evidenced from this anecdote from "some posh jobbing date on the North Shore," as recalled by a fan writing to the Jazz Institute of Chicago: "Sandy had just been diagnosed with cancer. He showed up at the gig right after undergoing some kind of chemotherapy that had turned his skin a very distinct and lovely shade of green. If you ever saw Sandy Mosse, you know he had bright red hair. Well, the combination of the green skin and the red hair for a Christmas party was just too much. We just couldn't help laughing, but we would never have laughed if Sandy hadn't been first and loudest."

The saxophonist was born in Detroit, but spent much of his American playing time based out of Chicago. He switched to tenor saxophone in the early '50s after learning his way around a reed on both the clarinet and alto saxophone. His first move to Europe happened early on, when at 22 he skipped to Paris and established a relationship with Wallace Bishop. He also recorded historical sides in the band of Henri Renaud, originally released as some of the first-ever picture discs. Mosse also was involved in some orchestral efforts behind gypsy guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt, and then was picked up in 1953 for a spot as a soloist in the front line of the Woody Herman band as it roared its way across Europe. Encouraged to come back home, he showed up back in the Windy City in 1955 and began working with Bill Russo, rhythm & blues and doo wop howler Chubby Jackson, and the interesting bandleader Cy Touff. The emerging Chess Records empire with its subsidiaries Argo and Cadet provided opportunities for Mosse to grow; he cut several sessions as a leader as well as recording with Touff and in a large band under the direction of the brilliant saxophonist and flautist James Moody. The latter session was something of a Chicago all-star get-together and found Mosse in the company of baritone Pat Patrick of Sun Ra Arkestra fame, among others. With Touff, Mosse co-led an octet in the late '50s and early '60s called the Pieces of Eight. This was reportedly a wonderful and unique small band with great arrangements, often featuring undersung trumpet player John Howell.

In the late '50s, Mosse was profiled in Downbeat in an article with this promising title: "Mosse Grows: A Warm, Fluent Tenor Saxophonist Is Finally Being Heard After Long Struggle." He received an award from the magazine as well as one from Playboy, at that point almost as concerned with jazz as with curves. Mosse was able to tour Europe with his own groups as well as with others as a guest soloist. A highlight was his appearance at the North Sea Jazz Festival. As the '50s wound down and rock & roll became more popular, Mosse was heard more frequently tucked into the ranks of big bands such as that led by the demanding drummer Buddy Rich, or high-note trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. He continued working in Chicago into the '60s, including appearing in the band of Dave Remington.

His Dutch wife lured him back to Europe and her hometown of Amsterdam in the 1970s, and while Mosse continued both playing on radio and teaching at the Royal Dutch Conservatory, there was definitely a drop in recording activity. Fans of his playing and the European scene still hope that the scores of avid home tapers who have been collecting jazz radio broadcasts might have some tasty material on their shelves that could see the light as an official release someday. There were sometimes trips back home, such as the '70s tour in which Mosse played the Chicago venue the Jazz Showcase alongside fellow tenor giants Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. On the Dutch side of things, one of Mosse's last major bands was the superb Volume Two, also featuring Irvin Rochlin, Klaus Flenter, Evert Hekkema, Ben Gerritsen, and Lex Cohen. One of Mosse's last recordings was a sideman in a band led by Hekkema.