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Pete LaRoca Sims


Peter Sims - I grew up in a brownstone in 1940s-50s Harlem with an extended family that was much involved in Jazz. An uncle, Kenneth Bright, was a major shareholder in Circle Records - he owned set no. 2 of the well-known interview of Jelly Roll Morton, which now resides at the Smithsonian (musicologist Alan Lomax owned set no. 1). He also managed rehearsal rooms above Harlem's renowned Lafayette Theater and, consequently, I was able to hear the rehearsals of many Jazz greats, like Bird, Dizzy, and Hot Lips Page, among others. Because he was active in the Jazz community, artists like Fats Waller would often play at family parties. Knowing of my fascination with Jazz, he arranged for the two of us to be the sole audience at a concert broadcast by James P. Johnson and Baby Dodds. I'm sure there are others who share the privilege (maybe they'll read this), but I've never met anyone else who has heard Baby Dodds live. Does that mean anything to anybody anymore?

Also, my stepfather played Jazz trumpet. I often accompanied him to jam sessions and enjoyed hearing him practice at home. When I started playing, he would take me on his dance gigs and I would play bongos when the band played a calypso, mambo, etc. Later, he provided insight for my composing and arranging.
As to playing, I began at age 10 with a Junior High School orchestra. I played timpani (on tom-toms) and learned drum fundamentals. At Music & Art High School I played orchestral percussion (real timps) and, since they had no drummer on the faculty, I was a student instructor for 3 1/2 of my years there. I also played timpani in the City College of N.Y. orchestra for two years. Beginning in high school, I played timbales in dance bands for about six years and had one fondly-remembered duet with Tito Puente. In 1955 I started playing a drum set in a Catskill-mountain show band. My first Jazz gig was with Sonny Rollins in 1957 (memorialized by a couple of tracks on the Blue Note album, Night at the Village Vanguard).

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