Stanley William Turrentine was one of the most distinctive tenor saxophonists in jazz. “The Sugar Man” or the original “Mr. T” found inspiration in the blues and turned it into a hugely successful career with a #1 hit and four Grammy nominations — first in R&B and then in jazz.
A legend of the tenor saxophone, Stanley Turrentine was renowned for his distinctively thick, rippling tone, an earthy grounding in the blues, and his ability to work a groove with soul and imagination.Turrentine recorded in a wide variety of settings, but was best-known for his Blue Note soul-jazz jams of the ’60s, and also underwent a popular fusion makeover in the early ’70s.
A consummate musician who learned his craft through disparate experiences and influences, Turrentine received his only formal musical training during his military stint in the mid-’50s. In 1959, he jumped from the frying pan into the fire when he left the military and went straight into the band of the great drummer Max Roach.
The organ-centered soul-jazz that Jimmy Smith and Shirley Scott concocted provided Turrentine the perfect gateway to cross over into pop territory. His first foray in this new, more radio-friendly music began in 1969 when he signed with Creed Taylor’s slick and successful CTI label.
Turrentine’s first album for CTI, Sugar, was released in 1970 and yielded the classic tune of the same name. He continued with a string a pop-laced crossover albums for CTI including the 1971 hit Don’t Mess with Mr. T. His relative success, despite his continued ability to deliver in the straight-ahead jazz vein, led to a predictable critical backlash.
Nevertheless, Turrentine persevered on the ever-changing landscape of jazz, by tapping into his enduring, soulful sound and bluesy approach. He remained a perennial favorite among jazz fans well up to his untimely death on Sept. 12, 2000.