Tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine began performing in the late 1940s and continued to work until his death in 2000. His career can be divided into three distinct eras: his blues and R&B stint as a side-man for Lowell Fulson; his work as a soul jazz bandleader and sideman on the Blue Note label in the 1960s; and his work as an early champion of jazz-rock fusion in the 1970s. Throughout his career, however, his work typically displayed an affinity for the blues while also revealing the stylistic influences of Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, and Don Byas.
Turrentine was born on April 5, 1934, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was a tenor saxophonist who had played with a band called the Savoy Sultans. Turrentine’s older brother Tommy was a jazz trumpet player who played with such notables as Benny Carter, Earl Bostic, Charles Mingus, Count Basie, Max Roach, and Dizzy Gillespie, Jackie McLean, and Lou Donaldson. Turrentine’s first instrument was the cello, which he abandoned before his teenage years to master the tenor saxophone. He admitted to taking instruction from his father, but maintained that he was mostly self-taught. His first professional work of note was touring with blues and R&B bandleader Lowell Fulson in a group that also included Ray Charles. He later played with Tadd Dameron. In 1953 he replaced John Coltrane as saxophonist in a group led by Earl Bostic that also featured his brother Tommy. He served in the Army for three years before joining the Max Roach group in 1959, another gig that featured his brother Tommy. While playing with Roach, Turrentine earned a reputation as a saxophonist in the tradition of Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas. He also played with keyboardist Shirley Scott, whom he married in 1960 and divorced in the early 1970s.
In 1960 Turrentine began recording work as a session musician at the Blue Note jazz label. This earned him international recognition as a purveyor of soul jazz—a hybrid of the two musical styles that was immensely popular and commercially successful in the 1960s for such artists as Turrentine, Horace Silver, Johnny Griffin, Grant Green, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, and Lou Donaldson. Soul jazz drew much of its inspiration from R&B and typically featured an instrumental lineup that included electric guitar, Hammond B-3 organ, drums, and saxophone. While denigrated by some critics as too commercial, soul jazz made inroads that eluded most other jazz styles. His first session was on a Dizzy Reece session, and he later recorded as a sideman on the seminal 1960 soul jazz recordings of organist Jimmy Smith, Midnight Special and Back at the Chicken Shack.
He recorded his first Blue Note album, Look Out, in 1960 with the Horace Parian Trio. In that same year he also recorded the first of a series of albums with the Three Sounds, a South Bend, Indiana-based trio that included Gene Harris on piano, Andrew Simpkins on
Born Stanley William Turrentine on April 5, 1934, in Pittsburgh, PA; died on September 12, 2000, in New York, NY; married Shirley Scott (a musician), 1960; divorced, early 1970s.
Played in Lowell Fulson’s band with Ray Charles, 1950-51; replaced John Coltrane in Earl Bostic’s band, 1953; served in U.S. military, mid-1950s; joined Max Roach’s band, late 1950s; performed on Jimmy Smith albums Back at the Chicken Shack and Midnight Special, 1960; recorded first album as bandleader, Look Out, I960; released That’s Where It’s At, 1962; resuscitated career as jazz fusion player on CTI label, 1970s; released Sugar, 1970; recorded on Fantasy label, late 1970s; released Mr. Natural, 1981; Wonderland, 1986; T Time, 1995; and Do You Have Any Sugar?, 1996.
bass, and Bill Dowdy on drums. The trio, who had previously recorded with Nat Adderley, Johnny Griffin, and Lou Donaldson, was brought to New York City by Horace Silver in 1958. In the original liner notes for the album Blue Hour featuring Turrentine and the Three Notes, Ira Gitler wrote: “Although only in his late 20s, Turrentine has a warmth of style associated with the players of an earlier period. His first inspirations were Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas and it is obvious that he learned some valuable lessons from them.” In the 1999 two compact disc reissue of Blue Hour, Michael Cuscuna characterized Turrentine’s playing as containing a “juicy, soulful tone, rhythmically hip phrasing and wonderful melodic ideas.” For the remainder of his 1960s tenure at Blue Note, Turrentine played as a sideman for Shirley Scott, Duke Jordan, Art Taylor, Ike Quebec, Kenny Burrell, Duke Pearson, and Horace Silver while producing an astounding number of albums as a bandleader. Featured members of his group during this period included Mark Johnson, Charles Fambrough, and Dwayne Dolphin.
In 1965 Turrentine branched out stylistically, experimenting with several larger groups, before leaving the Blue Note label in the late 1960s. During this period he produced some of the best-received and commercially successful albums of his career for the CTI label. The 1970 release Sugar is considered to be among the best of several such releases, which also included Salt Song and Don’t Mess with Mister T. In these recordings Turrentine added upbeat funk and rock elements to his mixture of soul jazz, a combination that led to significant sales. In the latter half of the 1970s, unfortunately, he recorded several albums for the Fantasy label that were critically dismissed. He returned to the smaller ensemble soul jazz of his 1960s success for much of the remainder of his career, recording prolifically with a variety of musicians.
On the 1994 Roy Hargrove album Tenors of Our Time, Turrentine was one of several saxophonists to team with trumpet and flugelhom player Hargrove. Turrentine appeared on two tracks, “Soppin’ the Biscuit” and “Wild Is Love,” which prompted Down Beat critic Herb Boyd to note: “[The album] opens with a luscious rendition of Hargrove’s ‘Soppin’ the Biscuit,’ with Turrentine laying on a thick helping of melody as sweet as molasses. Later, on ‘Wild Is Love,’ Turrentine’s characteristically robust and muscular tone softens, and his blend with Hargrove’s flugelhorn settles into a most relaxing groove.” In 1995, Turrentine released T Time, an album that included longtime musical collaborators Dwayne Dolphin and Mark Johnson, as well as featuring Alfredo Mojica on percussion, Dave Stryker on guitar, and Kenny Drew, Jr., on piano and Hammond B-3 organ. While comparing the album’s ensemble sound to Ben Webster and the Oscar Peterson Trio of the late 1950s, Down Beat critic Frank-John Hadley wrote that Turrentine had “been reaffirming the ardor for bop, swing, blues and ballads instilled in him by his father back in his formative years.” Hadley continued: “Turrentine’s mature tone on tenor, its rugged intonation and quality of earthy sexiness, is in evidence throughout T Time. His phraseology is terse, trim, direct and modestly inventive, speaking of heartfelt emotions without rhetoric or superfluous gambits outside standard harmony.”
In his last years Turrentine continued to record and perform live despite the difficulties of illness and old age. While assessing the 1996 recording Do You Have Any Sugar? as a relative failure, New Statesmen critic Richard Cook took the opportunity to praise Turrentine’s career achievements. Cook described Turrentine “as big and bold a saxophonist as any who came out of Pittsburgh, a great borough for rhythm-and-blues players,” and characterized his soul jazz music of the 1960s as “the definition of soul food: plain but flavour-some, gutsy, always simmering on backbeats that Turrentine could play over forever.” Cook described the influences that helped shape Turrentine’s music of the 1970s: “He liked to drop in moaning turns of phrase that put an oddly plaintive spin on what might otherwise have been bruising music. Perhaps it was this cajoling quality that took him into the kind of crossover success he enjoyed in the 1970s on albums that set the pace for commercial jazz at that point.” Turrentine’s death in 2000 marked the end of a widely diverse career that helped pioneer, for better or worse, several subcatego-ries of modern jazz.
Blue Hour, Blue Note, 1960; reissued as double compact disc, 1999.
Look Out, Blue Note, 1960.
Stan “the Man” Turrentine, Bainbridge, 1960.
Comin’ Your Way, Blue Note, 1961.
Dearly Beloved, Blue Note, 1961.
Up at Minton’s, Vol. 1, Blue Note, 1961.
Up at Minton’s, Vol. 2, Blue Note, 1961.
That’s Where It’s At, Blue Note, 1962.
That’s WhereIt’sAt, Blue Note, 1962.
Easy Walker, Blue Note, 1966.
Rough Walker, Blue Note, 1966.
Sugar, CTI, 1970.
Sugar Man, CTI, 1971.
Salt Song, CTI, 1971.
Cherry, Columbia, 1972.
Don’t Mess with Mister T, Columbia, 1973.
Pieces of Dreams, Original Jazz, 1974.
In the Pocket, Fantasy, 1975.
Mr. Natural, Blue Note, 1981.
Wonderland, Blue Note, 1986.
Introducing the Three Sounds, Blue Note, 1990.
T Time, Music Masters, 1995.
Do You Have Any Sugar?, Concord Jazz, 1996; reissued, 1999.
Gioa, Ted, The History of Jazz, Oxford University Press, 1997.
Kernfield, Barry, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, second edition, Macmillan, 2002.
Larkin, Colin, editor, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK Ltd., 1961.
Slonimsky, Nicolas, editor emeritus, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Centennial Edition, Schirmer, 2001.
Down Beat, August 1994, p. 36.
New Statesmen, July 26, 1999, p. 36.
“Stanley Turrentine,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusicguide.com (January 15, 2003).
Additional information was obtained from the liner notes by Michael Cuscuna to Blue Hour: Stanley Turrentine with the Three Sounds; the Complete Sessions, Blue Note, 1999.
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