Sonny Simmons

Huey "Sonny" Simmons (born August 4, 1933) is an American jazz musician.[1]

Sonny Simmons
Background information
Birth nameHuey Simmons
Born (1933-08-04) August 4, 1933
Sicily Island, Louisiana, U.S.
GenresJazz, free jazz
InstrumentsAlto saxophone, English horn
LabelsContemporary, ESP-Disk, Arhoolie, Qwest, CIMP, Marge, Boxholder, Jazzaway, Improvising Beings


Simmons was born in Sicily Island, Louisiana. He grew up in Oakland, California, where he began playing the English horn (Simmons and Vinny Golia are among the few musicians to play the instrument in a jazz context). At age 16 he took up the alto saxophone, which became his primary instrument. Simmons plays primarily in an avant-garde style, often delving into free jazz.

His then-wife, Barbara Donald, played trumpet on several of his early records, including his ESP-Disk titles Staying on the Watch and Music from the Spheres; Arhoolie Manhattan Egos, and Contemporary titles Rumasuma and the double album Burning Spirits.

Simmons also partnered with Prince Lasha on several recordings, two of which – The Cry! (1963) and Firebirds (1968) – were released by Contemporary.

Personal problems derailed both his music career and home life, leading to divorce and homelessness. He busked on the streets of San Francisco for many years, until he resurrected his career in the early 1990s and began playing in night clubs again.

His resurgence in the mid-1990s was marked by two albums, Ancient Ritual and American Jungle, for Quincy Jones' Qwest Records, along with appearances in European jazz festivals such as the Moers Festival and Saalfelden Jazz Festival. He has since remained a regular performer at European festivals.

Since 2000 he has been co-leader of The Cosmosamatics with reed player Michael Marcus.


As leader

  • Staying on the Watch (ESP-Disk, 1966)
  • Music from the Spheres (ESP-Disk, 1968)
  • Manhattan Egos (Arhoolie, 1968)
  • Rumasuma (Contemporary, 1969)
  • Burning Spirits (Contemporary, 1971)
  • Backwoods Suite (West Wind, 1982)
  • Global Jungle (Deal With It, 1990)
  • Ancient Ritual (Qwest/Reprise, 1994)
  • American Jungle (Qwest/Warner Bros, 1997)
  • Tales of the Ancient East (Parallactic, 2001)
  • Jewels (Boxholder, 2004)
  • The Future Is Ancient (2004)
  • The Traveler (Jazzaway, 2005)
  • I'll See You When You Get There (Jazzaway, 2006)
  • Last Man Standing (Jazzaway, 2007)
  • Ecstatic Nostalgia (Hello World!, 2007)
  • True Wind (Hello World!, 2008)
  • Atomic Symphony (Jazzaway, 2009)
  • Symphony of the Peacocks (Improvising Beings, 2011)
  • Beyond the Planets (Improvising Beings, 2013)
  • Leaving Knowledge, Wisdom and Brilliance (Improvising Beings, 2014)

With The Cosmosamatics

  • Reeds & Birds (Not Two, 2004)
  • Free Within the Law (Not Two, 2007)
  • Jazz Maalika (Saptakjazz, 2013)

With Moksha Samnyasin

As sideman

With Prince Lasha

With Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison

With Eric Dolphy

With Robert Stewart

  • Happy Birthday Trane (Armageddon, 1999)


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