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Hill District-born jazz great Turrentine dies

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

By Rick Nowlin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Jazz giant Stanley Turrentine, the tenor saxophonist who grew up in the Hill District and whose hit "Sugar" established him in the popular mainstream, died in Manhattan yesterday after suffering a stroke.

 
  Stanley Turrentine (V.W.H. Campbell Jr., Post-Gazette)

His agent, Robin Burgess, said Mr. Turrentine died at a Manhattan hospital two days after he was stricken.

Jack Kreisberg, a friend, said Mr. Turrentine collapsed at a hotel Sunday evening, just hours before he was to close out a week-long engagement at the famed Blue Note jazz club in New York City. He was rushed to New York Weill Cornell Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he had a second stroke early Monday morning, Kreisberg said.

Mr. Turrentine was 66 and lived in Fort Washington, Md., outside Washington, D.C.

He often blurred boundaries with his saxophone playing, mixing jazz with blues, rock, rhythm and blues and pop.

"His impact on jazz was just astonishing," Burgess said.

Another in a long line of Pittsburgh jazz musicians who would embrace the international stage, Mr. Turrentine began playing saxophone at the age of 11, following in the footsteps of his sax-playing father. His late brother Tommy, who played trumpet, became a jazz star in his own right.

He was surrounded by music growing up. The piano player Ahmad Jamal lived nearby, and often visited to practice on the Turrentine family's upright piano. . Mr Turrentine and his brother Tommy played at the Perry Bar in Pittsburgh, their first professional gig, while they were still in high school.

Mr. Turrentine's first professional gig took place with Lowell Fulsom's blues band, which included a blind pianist named Ray Charles. "I guess my sound started back then," he said. "I couldn't avoid the blues."

Mr. Turrentine received his big break when drummer Max Roach's band fell apart while touring Pittsburgh in 1958. Roach ended up hiring both Turrentine brothers.

And Mr. Turrentine never abandoned his Pittsburgh roots. One of his albums from the mid-1980s, "La Place," was named for a Hill District street and in the credits mentioned the names of several dozen people, some of them musicians he grew up with.

"He was one of the great tenors of our time -- he was as big in the '50s and '60s as he is today," said pianist and bandleader Walt Harper. "He mesmerized you...

"He would blow everybody off the stand when he was playing, but his style endured time. He had a style that everyone enjoyed," Harper said.

In 1974, Mr. Turrentine, then recording for Creed Taylor International Records, released the album "Sugar." Not only did the title track become a major hit, but it also introduced the music world to several up-and-coming musicians such as bassist Ron Carter, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and especially guitarist and fellow Hill District native George Benson.

Mr. Turrentine also enjoyed a sterling reputation among his peers in the jazz world.

Marty Ashby, executive producer of the Manchester Craftsman's Guild jazz concerts, called Mr. Turrentine "one of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz ... every single tenor saxophonist that is out there playing today has some Stanley Turrentine in them. That's the kind of impact that Stanley has. You can listen to the young lions, to the Michael Breckers of the world and say, 'Ah, that's T, that's Stanley coming out.' "

Mr. Turrentine went solo in the 1960s. His blues-influenced riffs brought him commercial success with albums such as "Stan 'The Man' Turrentine," "Up at Minton's," and "Never Let Me Go."

He said he preferred mixing genres to being boxed in by one label.

"One day, my stepson and I were alphabetizing my albums over the years, and I noticed that they categorized me as a rock and roll player on certain albums, a bee-bop player on other albums, a pop player, a fusion player," he once said. "And I'm just saying ... 'Gee, I'm just playing with different settings, but I'm still playing the same way.' "


The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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