Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus (1956)

FrontCover1Saxophone Colossus is a studio album by American jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins. It was recorded on June 22, 1956, with producers Bob Weinstock and Rudy Van Gelder at the latter’s studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. Rollins led a quartet on the album that included pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Max Roach. Saxophone Colossus was released later that year by Prestige Records to critical success and helped establish Rollins as a prominent jazz artist.

In 2017, Saxophone Colossus was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”

There are five tracks on the album, three of which are credited to Rollins. “St. Thomas” is a calypso-inspired piece named after Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The tune is traditional and had already been recorded by Randy Weston in 1955 under the title “Fire Down There”. (In the booklet provided with the boxed set, The Complete Prestige Recordings, Rollins makes it clear that it was the record company that insisted on his taking credit.) In any case, the piece has since become a jazz standard, and this is its most famous recorded version.

Finally, “Blue 7” is a blues, over eleven minutes long. Its main, rather disjunct melody was spontaneously composed. The performance is among Rollins’ most acclaimed, and is the subject of an article by Gunther Schuller entitled “Sonny Rollins and the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation”. Schuller praises Rollins on “Blue 7” for the use of motivic development exploring and developing melodic themes throughout his three solos, so that the piece is unified, rather than being composed of unrelated ideas.

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The original 22 June 1956 session was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder.
In a contemporary review for Down Beat, Ralph J. Gleason wrote:

“Almost as if in answer to the charge that there is a lack of grace and beauty in the work of the New York hard-swingers comes this album in which Rollins displays humor, gentleness, a delicate feeling for beauty in line, and a puckish sense of humor. And all done with the uncompromising swinging that has characterized them all along.” (by wikipedia)

Sonny Rollins recorded many memorable sessions during 1954-1958, but Saxophone Colossus is arguably his finest all-around set. Joined by pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Max Roach, Rollins debuts and performs the definitive version of “St. Thomas,” tears into the chord changes of “Mack the Knife” (here called “Moritat”), introduces “Strode Rode,” is lyrical on “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and constructs a solo on “Blue Seven” that practically defines his style. Essential music that, as with all of Rollins’ Prestige recordings, has also been reissued as part of a huge “complete” box set; listeners with a tight budget are advised to pick up this single disc and be amazed. (by Scott Yanow)

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Personnel:
Tommy Flanagan (piano)
Max Roach (drums)
Sonny Rollins (saxophone)
Doug Watkins (bass)

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Tracklist:
01. St. Thomas (Rollins) 6.48
02. You Don’t Know What Love Is (de Paul/Raye) 6.29
03. Strode Rode (Rollins) 5.15
04. Moritat (Mack The Knife) (Weill) 10.06
05. Blue 7 (Rollins) 11.14

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Sonny Rollins – Tenor Madness (1956)

FrontCover1Tenor Madness is a jazz album by Sonny Rollins. It is most notable for its title track, the only known recording featuring both Rollins and John Coltrane.

Rollins and Coltrane had both been members of groups with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk in the past. Rollins had had some recent success, and both were emerging as prominent solo tenor saxophone players.Two months prior to the session for Tenor Madness Rollins was working at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey on the album Sonny Rollins Plus 4 with Max Roach and Clifford Brown. And two weeks before, on May 11, Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, had been recording with Davis at the same studio to fulfill his duties for Prestige, sessions that would later go on to provide material for the albums Workin’, Relaxin’, and Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet.

Although the rhythm section’s “playing here is somewhat less vital than on that session” (with Davis) the historical importance of Tenor Madness lies in the title track. It is the only existing recording with Rollins and Coltrane playing together.

RollinsColtraneThe title track is a twelve-minute duet between Rollins and Coltrane, and the B-flat blues melody has become very well known for Rollins. It is easy to distinguish between the two saxophonists, as Coltrane has a much brighter and more boisterous sound as compared to Rollins’ smoother, “wet-reed” tone. However, as jazz critic Dan Krow said, the two complement each other, and the track does not sound like a competition between the two rising saxophonists.

“Paul’s Pal”, a jumpy swing track, is a Rollins composition, named for bassist Paul Chambers. “When Your Lover Has Gone” is a 1931 composition by Einar Aaron Swan, re-interpreted here as a drum-driven blues track. The Clinton & Debussy ballad “My Reverie” is one of Rollins’ most prominent examples of his lyrical skills from his 1950s’ recordings. “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”, a tune from the 1935 musical Jumbo, is a Rodgers & Hart composition which goes here from a jazz waltz to a fast-paced 4/4 tune.

SonnyRollins01At a time when he was a member of the legendary Clifford Brown/Max Roach sextet, Sonny Rollins was still the apple fallen not too far from the tree of Miles Davis. Tenor Madness was the recording that, once and for all, established Newk as one of the premier tenor saxophonists, an accolade that in retrospect, has continued through six full decades and gives an indication why a young Rollins was so well liked, as his fluency, whimsical nature, and solid construct of melodies and solos gave him the title of the next Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young of mainstream jazz. With the team of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones, staples of that era’s Miles Davis combos, Rollins has all the rhythmic ammunition to cut loose, be free, and extrapolate on themes as only he could, and still can. This is most evident on his version of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” started in its normal choppy waltz time, followed by a sax/drums prelude, a drum solo from Jones, and steamed from there on in, a hot 4/4 romp. Garland is particularly outstanding for keeping up the pace, depth and placement on this one. A bluesy version of “When Your Lover Has Gone,” again enlivened by Jones, and the legendary title track with Rollins and John Coltrane trading long solos, and fours with Jones, are tunes that in the mid-’50s defined the parlance “blowing session.” “Paul’s Pal,” in tribute to Chambers, has become a standard in its own right with a bright, memorable melody showing the good humor of Rollins, especially on the second time through, while the saxophonist’s ability to sing vocal like tones through his horn is no better evinced as during the light ballad “My Reverie.” A recording that should stand proudly alongside Saxophone Colossus as some of the best work of Sonny Rollins in his early years, it’s also a testament to the validity, vibrancy, and depth of modern jazz in the post-World War era. It belongs on everybody’s shelf. (by Michael G. Nastos)

RedGarlandPersonnel:
Paul Chambers (bass)
Red Garland (piano)
Philly Joe Jones (drums)
Sonny Rollins (saxophone)
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John Coltrane (xaxophone on 01.)

BackCoverTracklist:
01. Tenor Madness (Rollins) 12.16
02. When Your Lover Has Gone (Swan) 6.11
03. Paul’s Pal (Rollins) 5.12
04. My Reverie (Clinton/Debussy) 6.08
05. The Most Beautiful Girl In The World (Rodgers/Hart) 5.37

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