Stanley Turrentine grew up around music.
Born on April 5, 1934 in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, he started playing the saxophone at age 11 — following in the footsteps of his father, Thomas, a tenor saxophonist for the Savoy Sultans swing band. While still in high school, Stanley got his first professional gig: performing at Perry Bar in Pittsburgh alongside his older brother, Tommy, a noted trumpet player.
By 1950, Stanley had joined the big leagues. He played with Lowell Fulson’s band, which included pianist Ray Charles, before joining Earl Bostic’s band as a replacement for the legendary John Coltrane. In 1958, he again got a chance to play with his brother Tommy when the two were recruited by Max Roach for his band.
He released his first solo album, “Look Out!” in 1960 and recorded several more with label Blue Note throughout the decade. In the 1970s, he signed to Creed Taylor’s CTI label. His first release for it, “Sugar,” was one of his most successful recordings. Blurring the line between pop and jazz, it introduced him to a much wider audience.
As his star grew, Turrentine moved away from Pittsburgh but never forgot his roots. One of his albums from the 1980s, “La Place,” was even named for a Hill District street.
In 1983, Turrentine was chosen to open Pittsburgh’s Kool Jazz Festival with Ella Fitzgerald. An article in The Pittsburgh Press quoted the festival’s organizer, John Schreiber, as saying, “It just makes sense to have Stanley on the same stage with Ella. Pittsburgh has a great jazz tradition and here’s a guy from the city who can welcome Ella back.”
He received another nod from his hometown in 1992, when he was named that year’s honoree at the Mellon Jazz Festival.
“I feel so honored to be here and to be recognized where it all began for me,” he said. “When I was a kid, I was engulfed by all kinds of jazz floating around Pittsburgh.”
Turrentine died on Sept. 12, 2000 in Manhattan after suffering a stroke. He is buried in Allegheny Cemetery. Both Stanley and Tommy Turrentine are members of the Pittsburgh Jazz Hall of Fame.