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Pete “LaRoca” Sims

Pete "La Roca" Sims
Pete La Roca Sims

During the classic late-’50s Blue Note years, the session drummer of choice was Pete “La Roca” Sims. Heir to a drum bloodline that flows from Baby Dodds to Kenny Clarke, Sims’ idiosyncratic bass/snare rhythm inversions, free-flowing cymbal colorations and old-fashioned hard swing (he calls it “chanka-dang”) not only made him adaptable to Blue Note’s finest but also presaged the free-form innovations of the next decade. Nonetheless, as the sixties waned and rock began to rule, Sims quit the bandstand.

Like General MacArthur, Sims returned to the jazz grind in 1978 with a band he dubbed the Swing Time sextet. Although the sextet enjoyed a four-year residence at Sweet Basil, eight nights a month was just not enough to sustain a stable lineup. In spite of this, Sims has always managed to keep his Swing Time unit alive and, well, swingin’ to this day. “We have a deep bench—there’s a lot of guys around town who know this book, it depends on who’s available,” says Sims. “I always have a good band; keeping musicians, that has always been the problem.”

At last, this criminally under-recorded band has a new joint, the aptly titled Swing Time (on Blue Note, of course). A masterful compendium of fresh hard-bop strategies, Swing Time is Sims’ rhythm quest in reel time. “I must find all the different ways I can still play chanka-dang—I like to say I haven’t heard this before.” Indeed, Sims’ arrangements and intuitive interplay with his cohorts (Jimmy Owens, trumpet/ fluegelhorn; Ricky Ford, tenor; Dave Liebman, Lance Bryant, soprano; George Cables, piano; Santi Debriano, bass) revitalize the tired and the sad (“Body and Soul,” “The Candy Man”) and celebrate the groove-spirits and the deep chanka-dang (“Drum Town,” “Nihon Bashi”).

A great band, a great record—but Pete La Roca Sims is already on to the next thing. “I look forward. Everything to me is actual continuity. I hope to get the band into the really strong, subtle interaction … that comes with soloing; I can cut loose on the drums, get creative and just respond to the moment. That’s the goal, I’m looking to get to the higher levels than what we do now. I know we can get there as we play more.”

Originally Published