West Side Highway is Stanley Turrentine’s seventh album for Fantasy Records, and like his previous LP Nightwings, it was arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman. Turrentine’s full-bodied, robust tenor sound is featured in a purely instrumental setting—an unbeatable combination. Stand-out cuts on the album include a new recording of “Sugar,” a song Turrentine almost owns, and a powerful version of the jazz classic “Walkin’,” which has been released as a single.
“I’ve nothing but the highest respect for Claus Ogerman,” declares Stanley. “He paid great attention to me and the way I like to sound. He understood what I was putting across. Claus is never an obtrusive influence—he’s always a firm support, encouraging an artist to give their best.”
Some of the musicians on West Side Highway are well-known leaders in their own right—Eric Gale, Cornell Dupree, Ron Carter, and Hubert Laws, to name but a few.
“I’ve received some criticism for using background vocalists on earlier albums, but that’s not why I chose to omit them this time. It was purely a musical decision. After all, if you’re working with a genius like Claus Ogerman, why bother with adding singers? Besides, I believe that anyone who dug Pieces of Dreams will also enjoy my last couple of albums. They’re different, but they’re both me.”
Stanley Turrentine, as one of the more prominent “crossover” success stories of the Seventies, has paid his share of dues. “But I don’t like that concept of paying dues, because it implies great suffering. To me, paying your dues is that period of time when you’re learning your craft—becoming a professional. Sure, I’ve had a lot of bad times, but then who hasn’t? A musician probably doesn’t suffer any more than a guy on the line in Detroit!”
So success has not spoiled Stanley Turrentine. His way of blowing a saxophone has not changed that much through the years, although the specific types of music he chooses to play have, of course, developed steadily. He can play a Stevie Wonder tune as easily as the jazz classic “Walkin’” (included on West Side Highway), but there’s one thing the listener always knows: Turrentine plays from his soul.
Turrentine is a second-generation jazz man; his father, Thomas Turrentine, Sr., was a prominent saxophonist with the famed Savoy Sultans in the late 1930s, a band Dizzy Gillespie said was “the swingingest band I ever heard!” Young Stanley would often come home from school, pick up the cello—which he played first—put it back down, and pick up his father’s sax! Thomas Turrentine became Stanley’s first teacher.
In 1951, when Stanley was 17, he joined the Lowell Fulson band, which then included a young and ambitious Ray Charles. Charles eventually started his own band, which Stanley joined. Stanley says of the experience: “Ray was a great influence on me. He took me under his wing, taught me lots and lots of things that I’m still using today. That man truly amazed me because even though he was blind, he was absolutely and totally independent.”
When Stanley left the Ray Charles band, he returned home to Pittsburgh, where he played with local musicians. Next he went to Cleveland and joined an ensemble led by the great arranger/composer Tadd Dameron. In 1953, he replaced John Coltrane in the group formed by Earl Bostic, a band that specialized in swinging ballads with a rocking beat.
After a stint in the army, Turrentine really came to prominence, during 1959-60, as a member of the Max Roach Quintet. By the end of 1960, he had cut his first album as a leader, and had started working with organist Shirley Scott, whom he also married. The partnership lasted 31 years. Two albums in the Prestige catalog (Blue Flames and Soul Shoutin’) are evidence of just how great they were together. In the early Seventies, Turrentine recorded several albums for CTI Records, including collaborations with Milt Jackson, Deodato, and Freddie Hubbard.
Turrentine signed with Fantasy in 1974 and his first LP, Pieces of Dreams, became his all-time best-seller. Next came In the Pocket, which was a musically similar and very satisfying album. His third for the label, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, featured Turrentine with a solid jazz rhythm section, including the noted young pianist Patrice Rushen, and Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, and Freddie Hubbard.
Everybody Come On Out, his next LP, was different in that his earlier three albums were produced and arranged by Gene Page and his brother, Billy. This time Stanley shared producing chores with Orrin Keepnews; the rhythm section was Harvey Mason, Paul Jackson, Lee Ritenour, Bill Summers, and Joe Sample, with Wade Marcus handling arrangements.
Next came The Man with the Sad Face, recorded in New York and featuring arrangements from Motown great David Van De Pitte, and the singles “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” and “Evil Ways.”
In late summer 1977, Nightwings was released—one of Stanley’s most acclaimed albums, and his first collaboration with Claus Ogerman. The haunting title track was penned by the arranger especially for Turrentine.
The real resurgence in jazz during the mid-Seventies has made it possible for artists like Stanley Turrentine to have a larger impact on the listening audience. “It’s very interesting to watch where music is going,” Stanley muses, “and it’s reassuring to know that somebody out there is listening.”
Stanley Turrentine died September 12, 2000.