Stanley Turrentine: A Musical Uniquity

Ed Hamilton shares an interview he did with the late saxophonist

Ahmad Jamal, Errol Garner, Billy Eckstein, Art Blakey, Lena Horne, and Billy Strayhorn all have connectivity with Stanley Turrentine—they’re all from “Steel-Town” – Pittsburgh.

A musical marriage and matrimonial union was enjoined by Stanley and Shirley Scott, musically with Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell, Otis Candy Finch, Grady Tate and Ray Baretto on drums and percussion. In his last interview at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, he revealed the secret to the magnetism they possessed with his sax, Jimmy and Shirley’s organs, Kenny’s guitar, and Otis, Grady, and Ray’s percussive rhythms. And for years recording together on Prestige, Blue Note, and Atlantic Records. They performed their last gig at the Hollywood Bowl in 2005. Shirley had just passed.

It was 2006 at Ruth Price’s Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles after a tremendous set, I approached Mr. T. asking for a short interview and he responded, “Nigga, who are you?” I answered acerbically, “Ed Hamilton,
the MF who bought 100 of your Blue Note-Prestige albums.” He quipped back, “Oh yeah, I remember you now. I didn’t recognize you at first.” We’re both Aries, fire signs with spontaneous personalities that consummated this exchange.

At his last Jazz Bakery engagement, we briefly reflected back on the tenor saxism of Stanley Turrentine, Mr. T., as KBCA announcer Tollie Strode use to introduce him—The Sugar Man.

ED: Last time I saw you at John Levine’s Lighthouse in 1965, we had never met before--I said, ‘is it true you guys (he and Shirley) have 9 kids’?
Stanley: Oh boy, that was a long time ago. Shhhhh-don’t tell nobody, but we had three..(One of his daughters who had to be his favorite), was musically immortalized on “Little Sheri,” recorded on his first album Looking Out and with Oliver Nelson on River’s Invitation.

ED: Tell me about playing with your brother, Tommy Turrentine.
Stanley: I can’t tell you everything, but he was one of the greatest trumpeters--he taught me so much---he was six years older than me. He passed earlier this year. (2006)

ED: Was he your inspiration?
Stanley: No. My whole family was into music. My dad gave me my first sax--my mom taught piano.

ED: Who did you play with in the earlier days?
Stanley: We played with Max Roach and Earl Bostic’s Band.

ED: Next person-Jimmy Smith.
Stanley: I called him the King of the organ and Shirley Scott the Queen. She was truly a genius--- we recorded together for 13 years and did 13 albums for Blue Note, Prestige, and Atlantic Records.

ED: Was Midnight Special your first album with Jimmy?
Stanley: Yes, definitely and also with Kenny Burrell. I call Jimmy Smith the King of the organ---Jimmy is a well true genius on the organ. We also did Back at the Chicken Shack.

ED: Kenny Burrell said he dubbed you Mr. Soul--while playing with Shirley Scott and Jimmy.
Stanley: Hell yeah--You know Jimmy and Kenny---all us were on that album Midnight Special--and I dubbed him Mr. Soul. Kenny, Shirley and I did several albums throughout the years.

ED: Jimmy said you were one of the funkiest people he ever played with.
Stanley: Yeah, Jimmy was crazy baby.

ED: Please, your revelations on Shirley Scott.
Stanley: You know Shirley—what can I say? We played 13 years together—and played a lot of music together (as well as uniting their respective children with their marriage).

ED: Your collaboration with Les McCann--- that live session back in NY.
Stanley: Where was that? At the Village Gate with Blue Mitchell? It was a memorable date, and we later went into the studio for Stanley and Les.

ED: Going back to a man I always respected and loved--Grant Green and your live session Up At Mintons (Grant and I last talked at his last Lighthouse session in ‘73).
Stanley: Grant and I did a lot of records sessions together---we was tight and we use to hang out a lot and played a lot. It was a pleasure playing with him.

ED: The house band at Mintons was?
Stanley: Horace Parlan, George Tucker, Al Harewood.

ED: Thanks--- and please don't take so long to come back to L.A..
Stanley: It was indeed a pleasure to talk with a fellow Arian who knows my music.

Two weeks later, Stanley went back to the east coast in Bermuda and collapsed on stage. It was his last performance in 2007. I called Freddie Hubbard and told him Stanley had passed. “I told him to slow down”, Freddie said. “You probably got the last interview from him...” He went on describing what their musical camaraderie was saying, “That man is in my soul. I felt so close to him, ‘cause he’s from Pittsburgh and kind of got that church thing that I have. I can feel the gospel in him. And when he plays, you see Jesus. He makes you think you see Jesus. I don't know how much time he spent in the church, but that man---he can play. I mean it's different than Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. When he plays, it touches your heart. He was something--- not too many guys come like that.”

During their CTI Summer Concerts recordings, they barnstormed throughout the US and Europe, everyone heard what their musical communication was that lasted until Stanley’s passing.

Some of Stanley’s most memorable albums include: Sugar, Don't Mess With Mr. T., Never Let Me Go, Live at The Village Gate, Up At Mintons, With The Three Sounds, Horace Silver’s Serenade To A Soul Sister, and Never Let Me Go, and my mom’s favorite Hip Twist---it was Georgia Jones Hamilton who brought this album home in 1962 introducing me to both Stanley and Shirley.

Stanley met any musical genre, Jazz, Blues, Pop, and Latin (listen to Salt Song and Vera Cruz). A very tall man whose presence commanded your attention just like the stature of his tenor that could be sweet, passionate, bluesy and funky. Yes, you couldn’t dare compare his tenor. There just wasn’t anyone blowing tenor who could Mess with Mr. T.. His playing was so definitively sweet---it was nothing else but Sugar.

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Ed Hamilton