Sil Austin is the late American saxophonist, born in 1929. Although his top preference would always be jazz, Austin recorded in other different genres such as R&B, pop, blues, jump blues, and even country, funk and disco. A self-taught musician, Austin first spent his professional years by playing for groups of other musicians such as Roy Eldridge and Cootie Williams. During the 50s music scene Austin formed his own touring group, which became successful. In 1956 he achieved his most notable hit with “Slow Walk,” which placed at the top 20 of the Billboard pop chart. Austin was known for his gender-bending sound, which while criticized by jazz purists, was otherwise regarded well by fusion fans. He died in 2001 due to prostate cancer.
More on Sil Austin here in this article, with full biography, links and videos.
Early life and career
Renowned jazz saxophonist Sil Austin was born Sylvester Austin in Dunnellon, Florida on September 17, 1929 (but other sources say he was born on the 29th). He was a self-taught musician and regarded Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Stitt and Lester Young as his earliest and biggest musical influences. According to some sources, he joined the circus and toured with them playing in the band.
While still in his teens, Austin moved to New York and studied for a time at the Juilliard School of Music. In 1946 he also won in a talent show at New York’s prestigious Apollo Theater for his own rendition of “Danny Boy,” the same song that had helped him win at a previous contest in Florida.
Hitting the big time
There came Austin’s bigger breaks during the late 1940s. First he worked with well-known jazz trumpeter Roy Eldridge. In the early 50s music era he worked with a band of another jazz trumpeter Cootie Williams, and then with musician and bandleader Tiny Bradshaw. After that, Austin felt it was the right time to strike out on his own and thus formed his own backing band.
Around the same time Austin also signed with Mercury, and then released his self-penned song “Slow Walk” as a single. It reached #17 on the Billboard pop chart and #3 on the R&B singles chart in 1956. His other singles “Birthday Party” reached #74 in 1957, and “Danny Boy” at #59 in 1959, the latter becoming his signature song.
Also in 1959 Austin released his album Sil Austin Plays Pretty for the People that included his single “Danny Boy.” Its orchestral pop influences surprised and delighted many of his fans, but otherwise came under fire from jazz purists for its “adulterated” sound.
Later life and career
Austin remained to be under Mercury for the next 12 years or so. During the early 1970s he decided to move to Atlanta, Georgia and jumped from one small label to the next, all the way until the mid-1990s. He had also released a few records in Japan where he found a sizable audience.
Austin died on September 1, 2001, after having a four-year battle with prostate cancer. He died only 16 days before turning 72.
Sil Austin was described as a humble and modest man despite his lengthy and remarkable career in the jazz music scene in particular. He wouldn’t talk about his achievements unless he was asked.