The name is a jazz signature. It rides high among the stars and greats of the genre.

He was a California native. Land of cool, land of trying out new things; experimenting and experimentation; fortune-seeking and, simply, seeking. His family background was charged with the energy of performance. In his family were vaudevillians. It was the record collection of his brother that turned him on to jazz, with early influences coming from the sweetness of Lester Young and Ben Webster. His earliest playing experiences were in big bands, including sharing the stage with players like Stan Getz and sitting in the bands of Woody Herman and Benny Goodman.

He honed a soundscape that was very California, with an easygoing sensibility, but the sound also came with a drive and energy to it that became Zoot’s signature. It was connecting with Gerry Mulligan that significantly solidified the spirit in his sound. As it developed, it may have been best described as aged and gruffer, to use the words of composer Bill Holman.

Truly, the best words often come from fellow artists, and these, from Harry Allen, may well sum up the essence of Zoot Sims: “No matter what he played, it was perfectly in time… If you were making your own perfect saxophone player up in your head, that’s where you’d put the notes.” His was a deep, soulful tone, the result of a richness of a varied set of experiences with many players and bands, and a determination to uniquely express himself.