Joe Venuti and Zoot Sims – Joe & Zoot & More

Joe & Zoot & More
Joe Venuti and Zoot Sims
(Chiroscuro – 2002)
by Shaun Dale

This is the first CD release of the classic 1973 album that debuted the partnership of violinist Joe Venuti and saxophonist Zoot Sims. Venuti was 78 at the time of the recording and well into his comeback after years of relative obscurity. His first career, in which he played Grappelli to Eddie Lang’s Django, had faded and outside a tenure on Bing Crosby’s radio show in the early 50’s he’d been largely ignored until the late 60’s. His partnership with Sims, which would yield three albums, was a major factor in reestablishing his reputation as a master of the jazz violin.

Zoot Sims was 30 years Venuti’s junior, but was well versed in the swing style the violinist favored. Sims had been been playing professionally since the age of 15 and had logged time with Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton and other noteworthy bands. It’s hard to imagine a better pair to take on a set of standards from the books of composers like Ellington, Gershwin and Rogers & Hart.

Backed by a strong rhythm section featuring stride specialist Dick Wellstood on piano, drummer Cliff Leeman and bassist George Duvivier, they turned in a bravura performance that’s long overdue for reissue. Tracks like “Oh Lady Be Good” and “C Jam Blues” belong on every serious jazz listener’s shelves.

The “& More” part of the album title refers to 8 tracks recorded the following year with Venuti in duet, trio and quartet settings, and showing him to be the master of any setting. Particularly noteworthy performances are turned in by guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli in the three duet tracks and as part of the quartet, but there’s nothing here you’d want to miss and Venuti brought the best out of all of his sidemen, all of the time.