Saxophone 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.
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)
Tommy Flanagan (piano)
Max Roach (drums)
Sonny Rollins (saxophone)
Doug Watkins (bass)
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