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Three Sounds Bassman Passes OnCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1999
Simpkins, AndyAndy Simpkins made his first serious mark in jazz as an integral member of The Three Sounds, a trio featuring Simpkins on bass, Gene Harris on piano, and Bill Dowdy on drums. The group was launched in 1956 as The Four Sounds in South Bend, Indiana, originally with a tenor saxophonist added to the trio.
They could not find a suitable candidate to hold the horn chair on a permanent basis, however, and decided to operate as a trio the following year. They moved to New York in 1958, where they recorded several successful albums for Blue Note, beginning with Introducing The Three Sounds (1958), and including Feelin' Good (1960) and Babe's Blues (1962), among others. The trio also accompanied some of the label's major soloists, including Lou Donaldson and Stanley Turrentine.
The group went on to record for several other labels with artists like Nat Adderley and Anita O'Day as well as in their own right, before returning to Blue Note in 1966. They remained intact until Dowdy left the band that year, and Simpkins followed two years later (Harris finally stopped using the name in 1971).
It is a measure of the bassist's abilities that he went on to work with some of the biggest and most demanding names in jazz. He played clarinet and piano as a child and as a student at Wilberforce University, before turning to double bass shortly before joining the army in 1953. He began playing in jazz groups after his discharge from the service in 1955.
The Three Sounds occupied most of his attention in the twelve years he spent in the band, and their combination of a light, accessible mainstream swing-into-bop idiom with a blues-rooted feel made them one of the most popular jazz ensembles of the late-50s.
On leaving The Three Sounds, Simpkins worked with pianist George Shearing for six years from 1968-74, but also freelanced extensively. He contributed a memorably chilling bass duet with Ray Brown to the soundtrack of the film version of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood in 1968, and played or recorded with artists like Stephane Grappelli, Monty Alexander, Carmen McRae, Joe Williams, Harry Edison and Freddie Hubbard. He was a member of Sarah Vaughan's trio for several years from 1979.
Andy Simpkins died from cancer of the stomach.