Stanley Turrentine - Biography

BY Nick Castro


Stanley Turrentine was one of modern jazz's leading saxophonists. Born in 1934, in Pittsburgh, PA, Turrentine was taught saxophone from an early age by his father, who played with the Savoy Sultans, which was a famous swing group led by saxophonist Al Cooper. Turrentine's mother was a pianist and his brother Tommy played trumpet professionally as well. Turrentine grew up around the corner from jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, who would often visit the Turrentines and practice on their piano. Turrentine has had a highly successful career which has spanned many musical genres including hard bop, pop, fusion and soul.


Turrentine first began playing professionally when he was still 16. Originally, Turrentine was heavily influenced by the r&b sound of saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. Turrentine was soon playing Ray Charles and blue guitarist Lowell Fulson. This experience provided Turrentine with an opportunity to play with the some of the finest players emerging in the blues and soul genres. In 1953 Turrentine got a job playing with saxophone virtuoso, Earl Bostic, who had, it is said, fired John Coltrane due to Coltrane's increasing drug habits. In the mid 50's Turrentine joined the army for a short while but upon his discharge he got a job, alongside his brother Tommy, playing with drummer Max Roach. This group would give the Turrentines the exposure they would need to be recognized as serious jazz players. Roach's music was very demanding and`the Turrentines rose to the challenge in full form. None could question their abilities after this and they received, through their endeavors with Roach, the opportunity to establish their own bands.


In 1960, Stanley Turrentine got the opporunity to record for Bainbridge Records. He made the disc Stan "The Man" Turrentine (1960 - Bainbridge), with musicians Sonny Clark on saxophone, Tommy Flanagan on piano and his old leader, Roach on drums. This album is a competent straight ahead jazz album, featuring three compositions by Turrentine, "Let's Groove", the album's opener, "Sheri" and "Minor Mood". Although solid, Turrentine can be heard still in the developmental stages of what would become his signature sound. His next album, for the iconic jazz label Blue Note, was Look Out (1960 - Blue Note). This album, featuring Al Harewood on drum, George Tucker on bass and Horace Parlan on piano, features four Turrentine tunes, including the opening and title track as well as the addenda to the last album, "Little Sheri" and "Minor Chant". In this session Turrentine is already feeling more comfortable and beginning to sound like himself. His next album, that same year, for the label was Blue Hour (1960 - Blue Note), and has a more subdued blues feel.


Turrentine began to cultivate, what would be called, a soul jazz sound, utilizing his brassy r&b tone and style to gain recognition in the sometimes overcrowded jazz world where players were finding it more and more troublesome to distinguish themselves from the rest. Turrentine found a perfect balance of bop sensibilities with his, slightly more, accessible sound. He made critics take notice then he released his album Joyride (1965 - Blue Note), which featured the arrangements for orchestra by saxophonist and composer Oliver Nelson, who was known for unique and strange arrangements. Also featured in the album are jazz giants Phil Woods, Clark Terry and Jay Jay Johnson. The band once again does Turrentine's "Little Sheri" as well as the Percy Mayfield song "River's Invitation".


Turrentine married organist Shirley Scott and would often record with her many times, such as on the album Hustlin' (1964 - Blue Note), which featured the amazing guitar skills of Kenny Burrell and the bass of Bob Cranshaw as well as drummer Otis Finch. They manage to get a unified sound by selecting a diverse range of material such as Lloyd Price's Trouble" and Turrentine's "The Hustler", which is a fine jazz blues number with a proto funk rhythm. Scott can be heard playing syncopated stabbing rhythms against the trap kit of Finch to create a sparse, yet solid, foundation. Burrell manages to fit into every space not occupied by the organ and drums.


Other collaborators of Turrentine's, during the 60's, were organists Jimmy Smith and Les McCann. He would play on many of their pivotal recordings and this also helped to establish Turrentine in the soul jazz school of playing, which often featured organ as a staple of the band. By the late 60's Turrentine would be finding much of his success due to his implementation of pop songs with soul jazz interpretations.


Soon Turrentine was joining forces with producer Creed Taylor, who was also a founder of the record labels Impulse! and CTI. Taylor had just had major successes working with the crossover Brazilian artists Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto. Turrentine soon was signed to Taylor's CTI label, which also hosted a stable of impressive musicians such as George Benson, Freddie Hubbard, Deodato, Hubert Laws, Wes Montgomery and Larry Coryell. Turrentine had a hug hit for the label with his recording of the song "Sugar", from his album Sugar (1970 - CTI), which is probably the one most strongly associated with Turrentine. For this album Turrentine is joined by musicians Lonnie Liston Smith on electric piano, labelmates Hubbard on trumpet and Benson on guitar, as well as bassist Ron Carter. They do a version of John Coltranes "Impressions". Although this album was widely received, the purists of the jazz scene were turning a cold shoulder to Turrentine for, as some saw it, diluting his sound. Turrentine ran with the success and followed up the album with other big hits, such as Don't Mess with Mr. T (1973 - Columbia) and The Sugar Man (1975 - CTI).


By the late 70's Turrentine had signed with labels Elektra and Fantasy, where he would release the albums In the Pocket (1975 - Fantasy) and Soothsayer (1979 - Elektra). He would record a string of albums for these two albums in the early 80's before he took a few years off from his music career to rejuvenate. He came out of this semi retirement when the Blue Note label reformed. He released the album Straight Ahead (1984 - Blue Note) with musicians Ron Carter on bass, Smith once again on organ, Benson on guitar, Jimmy Madison on drums, Les McCann on piano and Jimmy Ponder on guitar as well.


Turrentine continued to record albums and tour worldwide through the 90's. He suffered a stroke in September of 200 that claimed his life two days later.






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