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The Gig: Remembering Pete La Roca Sims

School of La Roca

Pete LaRoca

I have just one personal recollection of drummer Pete La Roca Sims, but the moment springs crisply to mind. It was November 1998, a couple of months after I had moved to New York City, and Blue Note Records was throwing itself a gala 60th anniversary party at Birdland. I spotted Sims almost as soon as I walked in the door and, acting on impulse, told him that Basra, his 1965 album on the label, was one of my favorites. He looked taken aback for a second—I was fresh out of college, and surely looked the part—but then he positively beamed. “Man, c’mere,” he said, pulling me into a hug.

Sims, who died of lung cancer on Nov. 20, enjoyed just one prolific decade in jazz, but it was righteous. The bulk of his recording career runs from 1957—when he made his auspicious debut on Sonny Rollins’ stone classic A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note)—to 1967, the year of his second date as a leader. The time between those bookends was well spent: Sims appeared on significant albums by tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and pianists Paul Bley and Steve Kuhn, among others. In 1960 he was in a prototype of the John Coltrane Quartet, working steadily for several months at the Jazz Gallery, and though the music made by that band never saw official release, bootlegs confirm that Sims was well up to the task, slashing hard at his ride cymbal and throwing mean combinations with kick and snare.

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Originally Published
Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).