Word of the death of Pete La Roca Sims came on Tuesday, hours after his passing. For any jazz fan with more than a token interest in the 1960s, this news was processed with a heavy heart. Respectful and often insightful tributes flowed quickly, from the likes of Ethan Iverson and Hank Shteamer and Phil Freeman.
I began working on a formal obituary, but learned that the holiday weekend and various other factors would delay its publication. So I took my time, reacquainting myself with La Roca's estimable body of work on Blue Note and elsewhere — notably his own fascinating album Turkish Women at the Bath — and digging into some of the bootlegs I had never found the time to study. I spoke with saxophonist David Liebman, catching him around 7:45 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving, and later with pianist Steve Kuhn, at a more reasonable hour. I spoke with members of the Sims family. I learned that Sims favored a 20-inch A Zildjian ride cymbal from the '50s, pitched in C#. And I began to develop a different perception of his legacy, not just as a post-bop drummer but also as a personality and an artist.
A lot of that didn't make into the official obit, which of course is intended for a general-interest readership. So I've decided to dedicate an edition of my JazzTimes column to La Roca Sims — in the March issue, also known as the Farewells issue. When that posts online, I'll link to it here.
In the meantime, since you have no doubt already seen the Sonny Rollins Trio footage, here's a clip of La Roca with the Art Farmer Quartet, taking a solo to wrap up Rollins's "Valse Hot." That's Steve Swallow on bass and Jim Hall on guitar; the next tune up is Cole Porter's "So in Love." This is from a BBC broadcast, June 27, 1964.