One song immortalized Stanley William Turrentine and his tenor sax: his enormously popular 1971 recording "Sugar." In fact he'd been making a splash beyond his hometown for nearly 20 years.
Born in 1934 in the Hill District, one of five kids, the younger brother of trumpet legend Tommy Turrentine, their dad, Tom, Sr. played tenor sax but was doing construction work. Their mother played piano. Tom Sr. started Stanley on tenor in 1945, but he later studied sax with legendary local jazz teacher Carl Arter, who played sax and piano. In school he played with a combo called Four Bees and a Bop.
All the Turrentine children studied music. To keep them interested, Tom Sr. took them to local jazz concerts. Stanley knew Ray Brown and Ahmad Jamal. Tommy's career started first but Stanley's first professional gig in the 40's was touring with blues guitar great Lowell Fulson, whose band featured young singer-pianist Ray Charles. The Fulson gig got Turrentine's his feet wet, and he returned to Pittsburgh for a while only to move to Cleveland. From there he and Tommy worked with R&B alto sax great Earl Bostic.
After two years as an Army musician, from 1956-58, Turrentine was back home when Max Roach was playing at the Crawford Grill and lost two musicians, a bassist and trumpeter. Tommy Turrentine joined Roach and also suggested Stanley, and local bassist Bobby Boswell. Roach's band carried stature, and showcased Stanley's skills. He made his first solo album, Stan The Man, for the Time label in 1960, while still working with Roach.
1960: "Minor Mood" from his first solo album on the Time label . George Duvivier, bass, pianist Tommy Flanagan, and drummer Max Roach.
The reputation he gained with Roach led him to Blue Note Records. Over the next nine years, he did a steady stream of solo records, plus guest appearances on two albums by Gene Harris's great piano trio the Three Sounds.
1960: "Since I Fell For You" with The Three Sounds: Gene Harris, piano; Andrew Simpkins, bass; Bill Dowdy, drums
Turrentine started playing on some of Jimmy Smith's Blue Note albums in 1960, including the popular Midnight Special. Living in Philadelphia at the time, he married jazz organist Shirley Scott, and the two worked on each other's recordings including this one.
1964: "Love Letters" from Turrentine's Blue Note album Hustlin'. Kenny Burrell, guitar; Shirley Scott, organ, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Otis Finch.
Turrentine was divorced from Scott when he started recording for veteran jazz record producer Creed Taylor's new CTI label in 1970. And this song really put him on the map.
1971: The Original "Sugar" with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, Pittsburgh jazz legend George Benson, Lonnie Smith on electric piano, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Kaye.
From there on, Turrentine and his brother worked and recorded separately and alone, Stanley's stature as one of the most eclectic players of his time, assuring his stature alongside Tommy's.
1987: "Midnight Special" from the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival, with Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell and another Pittsburgh jazz titan: Art Blakey
1989: "Don't Mess With Mr. T" from a PBS special
March, 1997: Turrentine at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild with Dr. Billy Taylor and Gary Burton, bassist Rufus Reid and Pittsburgh jazz legend Roger Humphries on drums.
Tommy Turrentine died of cancer in 1997. Stanley, who resided in Maryland, made his last solo recordings for Concord Jazz in 1999. In 2000, he died of a stroke suffered during a Manhattan engagement. He's buried in Allegheny Cemetery.
He's been categorized in varying ways: as an exponent of soul-jazz, fusion, funk and similar pigeonholes. But that doesn't quite tell the story. What he played fit all of those categories, and yet it was much, much more. Stanley Turrentine's influence and impact endure today and it's a matter of record that his genius took root rhere, in his hometown.
The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz Volume 2 (1988)
Gene Lees: Friends Along The Way: A Journey Through Jazz (Yale University Press, 2003)