Tuesday, January 21, 2020

“Gerry Mulligan: My Approach to the Orchestra,” Les Tomkins 1985

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The tone and tenor of Les Tomkins’ later-in-career-interview with Gerry Mulligan which was published in the June/July 1985 issue of Crescendo International is reflective of this assertion by the late author Tom Clancy:

“As a man gets older he thinks differently and see things more clearly.”[Clancy was gender specific].

Although Jeru gave somewhat similar responses in previous interviews, these are fuller; more thorough; more complete: in other words, Gerry is older and thinking differently about people, places and things in his life, both past and present.

“We know you, Gerry, as a musician who has been involved, as a player and a writer, in a wide range of activity. Working with a symphony orchestra is something else...

Stretching out a little more — yes. The first reason for starting to do the symphony concerts was to play this new piece of mine. I took off the Winter of '83/'84, spent four months working on the ideas, and then two months — well, about a month, I suppose -- scoring it. So altogether it occupied five months out of the year, preparing this piece — called "Entente". It's geared to be a piece for solo baritone saxophone and orchestra.' Then the other piece we're playing in these concerts is called “The Sax Chronicles"; I had this idea with my friend Harry Freedman, who's a Canadian composer, to do a piece that allowed me to play with the orchestra in various kinds of contexts that I don't get to play with — because none of the composers wrote for the baritone saxophone! And I wanted to be able to do this; it always breaks my heart to listen to the orchestra play even its standard repertoire and not be able to play the music of great writers of the twentieth, nineteenth and eighteenth centuries. So Harry decided the way to solve my problem was to take melodies of mine and re-compose them in the styles of Bach, Brahms, Mozart... We call it 'The Sax Chronicles" because we're jumping around in time, and it's sort of the idea of doing a revisionist history of the saxophone!

A fascinating idea. But your opportunities of experimentation with a large orchestra must have been strictly limited anyway.

Well, actually, after doing this piece, I had the opportunity to play with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl during last Summer [1984] — and, of course, that gave us a deadline to aim for. And it's been a wonderful thing: because of the existence of the piece those other things have happened kind of naturally, you know. We spent a week in Treviso, Italy — that's in the Veneto province, North of Venice — we rehearsed for three days and did four concerts with them, and that really came about because the music existed. It was one of those coincidental things; this was when their orchestra was having its season, and they had asked me if I would do a Quartet concert. I'd said: "Love to"; then we got into a conversation about what I was doing…”Ah, you have a piece for the symphony — oh, that's wonderful!" So we wound up performing it, and it was great, because to have the three days of rehearsal as a luxury and to do four concerts in a row — it meant the thing really came to life for me. One of the drawbacks is always having a minimal amount of rehearsal time — it's a great luxury, being so expensive. This allowed me to iron out a|l the inevitable problems — copying mistakes and that sort of thing. Also — I put some time in and wrote an arrangement for the orchestra with the Quartet on one of the pieces that we do regularly, called "K-4 Pacific".

Oh, yes, I remember that from "Age Of Steam" — a particular favourite album with me.

Right — well, I do that all the time with the Quartet. You know, I hadn't really even thought about it before, but when I finished the "Entente" I was so wound up, spending that much time, that finally when I got down to scoring I couldn't quit! So I went on and did the other piece. When we've finished the current tour I’m going to go back to Italy and see if I can do some more writing.

Would you call it fusion music — in terms of fusing elements of jazz with classical elements?

It certainly is doing that — especially "Entente". "The Sax Chronicles" is intended to be in the styles of the various composers; really, the only thing that's jazz-like about it the fact that I'm primarily a jazz musician — so I tend to phrase things in the way that I'm used to. No matter how hard I tried, I would never be a symphonic player! It's the force of habit, you know — the things that are so ingrained in me, as far as phrasing is concerned. But what we have is a kind of a mutual adapting to each other, within the framework allowed by the styles that we're writing in.

In writing, this is quite a departure for you. Is something that you, hopefully, will be doing more of?

Yes, I intend to. Yes — I love to write for the orchestra. I really never thought that I would write for the orchestra— I didn't feel like I could do it. But it's been kind of a sequence of events — you know those sorts of things: you meet people and things happen, without thinking about it. And that really is what's happened here, because, in a way, the springboard for all this was the happy accident of meeting Zubin Mehta on a plane going from Los Angeles to New York. We got talking about this and that, and he wound up inviting me to play the soprano saxophone solo part on Ravel's "Bolero". And he invited me to come to rehearsals whenever I wanted to; so being in contact with and spending more and more time around the orchestra had its effect, and Zubin kind of gave me the confidence to go ahead and try it. I'd been very hesitant about taking the chance. It's not easy to be a beginner at any time in your life, but I think to get to be my age and feel like a rank beginner again — just trying something you don't know at all — is not at all easy.

Well, it's been in there sort of waiting to come out, I suppose.

I suppose so — because I've always been interested in orchestration, I've
listen a lot, and I've always felt like I know a lot about it. Intuitively — because I never studied orchestration or composition when I was young; I never had the opportunity to. But I understand the principles and the logic, and I've always curious when I listened to any composer’s work...  I'm always more concerned with why he would solve a problem in such a way, or why he would use such-and-such a combination of instruments!. The imagination that a composer can bring to what he does by the kinds of orchestration that he'll evolve for what he's doing — that's the great fascination for me.

But it's an extension, as it were, of what you've done for the jazz orchestra. You always tried, there, to get as wide a palette of colours as possible, didn't you?

It’s true I've always been attracted to the jazz band in an orchestral way, rather than a band way. I suppose that's one of the things that has always separated me — and certainly separates me now — from the general trend of the existing bands. Well, there are only a few of the well-known bands left. But, you know, one of the bands I wrote for and played with in the 'forties was Claude Thornhill's band — and one of the things I loved about his band, and Claude Thornhill's approach, was his conception of the dance band instrumentation, with seven brass or so. In this case, he had six or seven brass and a couple of french horns, with the five reeds — and we usually used a couple of clarinets in that. But his approach was basically orchestral, but with no strings involved. That's always fascinated me, and I've always leaned in the direction of orchestral writing rather than band writing.

Of course, Gil Evans, whose ideas are very similar, was there too...

And that's precisely what Gil was doing — and that's why he was so ideally suited to be writing for Thornhill. But that was Thornhill's conception — his band was like that when he first put it together, before Gil ever wrote for it. Did you ever hear any of the things that Claude wrote? Marvellous things — there's one thing in particular...

Yes, it was Gil who drew my attention to them, and I later got hold of a record. The one you mean had a funny title — "Portrait..."

“Portrait of a Guinea Farmer" — well, that's an example. The kinds of things he was writing were very much in the vein of some of Debussy's humorous music. Aside from the tone poems we associate automatically with Claude Debussy, he had a sense of humour — and this was the thing that Claude Thornhill enjoyed so much. Anyway, that was the conception of the band; that was an inspiration to me, and it made me very conscious of orchestral writing. Another bandleader that I worked for, who also inspired me to listen to orchestral writing and to his favourite composers, was Gene Krupa. Oh, yes — Gene's first love was Delius. He loved Delius, and we'd spend a lot of time listening to that music. When we were on the road, Gene always carried his record player and his records, and he would invite some of us up to his hotel room, And he listened with such enthusiasm; he'd say: "Now, listen to this... listen to what he does here... listen to the bar of five-four he puts in here..." Oh, he was a great inspiration — lovely man. I've always considered myself lucky with the leaders that I worked for, and Claude and Gene were certainly two inspiring people for me.

How about Stan Kenton? Was he not an inspiration?

Well, you see — Stan's band I didn't really like, because it represents the opposite extreme. Everything was brass, and it was all this kind of thing that we associate with the concert band — like the Sousa band, you know. Although I use Sousa band only to explain the conception of the concert band, because Sousa's band, unlike Kenton's band, was a very soft band. When they play Sousa marches today, they sound very loud, very military and all that — but when Sousa played them they didn't sound like that at all. They didn't use trumpets, for one thing, and when they did, the cornet was still the primary instrument — and the cornets had a much softer sound. And they used woodwinds; the clarinets served the function of the strings. There are recordings around of recreations of Sousa's band, that were probably done in the 'thirties — it was a revelation to hear those things. It appealed to me; I liked it very much — because I don't like really blasting loud music. As a consequence, I don't think Stan really liked my things that much. He kinda got stuck with me, because the musicians playing in the band liked my
arrangements, and I think he felt he would have lost face with the band if he'd refused to commission me to write more, or to play them. But I know that he wasn't really comfortable with them. My music is too horizontal, and what Stan liked was vertical structures. He wanted power — sort of wearing your virility on your sleeve, if you will.

So what's happening with the band now? You've brought it over here a couple of times. Are you still keeping it together?

Yes — you know, some years I do a lot of dates and a world tour with the big band; and then the next year we'll probably only do a handful of dates. But we keep the spirit going in the band; we're always in contact with the players, and they all live around New York. There are usually very few changes when I put it together; we did a concert very recently, and had almost all the regulars. And, of course, we've done enough dates like that, that there are plenty of people in New York in various chairs to make it feel like we've been together a long time. It always amuses me — sometimes we'll put the band together for a date, and we haven't played together for six months or more; we don't have a rehearsal, but we go out and play — and it sounds like the band has been working every night! I never spring new arrangements on them without rehearsing first. The amusing thing about it is: we'll go and do a concert some place, with no rehearsal, and then there'll be the comment in the paper that they think the band may be over-rehearsed — it's a little too polished! I always save those to send around to the band — it makes them feel good. And the other thing we do: we periodically have Softball games with the band, because they're all baseball nuts — that helps to keep the spirit alive. That's one of the things about a band — aside from the music and what you can do with it, as a social organisation it's the thing that we all became musicians for in the first place. That's part of it.

Do you pretty well divide your time between the small group things and the big band?

Right — and now we have the third area: spending time on the symphony concerts. As for the Quartet, Bill Mays is on piano — you've heard him? He's wonderful; we have a great time together. Frank Luther has been here with me before on bass — two or three times, I guess. Also our drummer Richie De Rosa has been here with the big band and the Quartet. So we have a continuity going. No — we never have recorded; I don't do as much recording as I'd like to.

I’m always looking out for new things from you, and I get surprised sometimes when you come out with something unusual — like with the accordionist Astor Piazzolla, with Lionel Hampton or whatever.

Or the other one in Italy I like very much — with Enrico Intra, playing on his compositions. There's a lot of good music on that one.

Yes, you recorded that in Milan, and it was put out on the Pausa label in Los Angeles. Great stuff.

Then, of course, the most recent  thing, "Little Big Horn", that Dave Grusin and I planned. That's really musically quite a departure for me, because it's not like the stuff that we do with the Quartet — and it's different kinds of approach to arranging of things that I wrote. The idea being that Dave thought we should use different groups for the different pieces, so that a piece like "Little Big Horn" or "Another Kind Of Sunday" should have the kind of feeling supplied by some of the players who as a rule play with him in the New York studios — we have Buddy Williams on drums and Anthony Jackson on bass. That's a totally different feeling than the Quartet, or even the kind of quartet things we did on that album — like "Sun On The Stairs". Or we have the thing that Dave did a lot of synthesiser work on — "Under A Star". Of course, it's something that I can do in that way when I'm playing concerts, because I'm not about to start carrying all those synthesisers around. I think those are invitations to disaster; you can imagine all the problems inherent in carrying that stuff— I never want to start with that. But in the recording studio it's great, you know; you have control — if a fuse blows, you can fix it!

Well, as long as you've got somebody who is a total exponent of it — and not just using it as a toy.

Dave is such a complete musician, and he uses it as a composer and arranger. Of course, Dave and I have been friends for a long time, and we always enjoy working together because we both think as composer/arrangers. You can hear how we adapt to each other. Bill Mays does that also — he listens to me and starts following what I'm doing, and I do the same thing. It's wonderful to feel things evolving — find yourself doing things that you like, that you wouldn't do otherwise. And it's that way with Dave Grusin. We did some tracking on that; he did one pass with synthesisers set up in one kind of mode, and then we'd do another pass — we could overdub two or three times. I could hear the processes at work — how he was laying out the composition for himself, to go back and improvise on another part of it. For a composer to use instruments like that — it's a new palette to work with. You can get a lot of satisfaction out of it.

The other thing you've apparently been doing sometimes latterly has involved Mel Torme. You played on some tracks of a double album by him, and I gather you've done various special concerts where there’ve been you, he and George Shearing.

Yes, we started doing that as part of the New York Jazz Festival. Mel and I both love songs, and George Wein wanted to do nights, as part of the series of shows that were a dedication, a celebration of the American songwriters. And, as you know, we had some great people to choose from — there've been incredible writers in this century. So that was really the basis for the first couple of shows that Mel and I each appeared on separately. But we always felt that we would like to do the whole show as a concept — really make the most of the whole idea. George Wein said: "Fine", and that's what we did; we put a lot of work into those shows.

It sounds as though they were a lot of fun as well.

Tt was a labour of love. 'We didn't get anything extra for all of the production work we put in it, but I felt it was worthwhile, and Mel and I enjoyed it very much. Of course, he brought George Shearing into the thing, and the three of us had such a good time putting those shows together. And a couple of shows, I think, are some of the best of the concept shows that have been done with the New! York Festival. I have a vested interest in feeling that way, being that they were partly shows.

Didn 't you do some singing yourself on them?

I did. Mel said: "If we're going to be doing American songwriters, you've got to sing." And for a couple of years there I was probably the one person anywhere who could say: "I only sing at Carnegie Hall"! I don't even sing at home in the shower! Only Carnegie Hall. But, you know, it gave me confidence, and I enjoyed doing it. That's why I wound up doing that vocal version of one of my songs — "I Never Was A Young Man" — on the "Little Big Horn" album. That was Dave's idea; he wanted me to do that — he thought it would be fun to do And he's right — not taking it seriously, it's a lot of fun — that's important too.

Have you done any other novel recordings lately?

I've appeared on some other people's albums. I did a couple of tracks with a friend of mine — Italian singer Ornella Vanoni. She's one of the favourite Italian popular singers, and she'd been wanting us to do something together for a long time. She had an idea for an album, and she wrote some songs; it was fun, and I like the way she sings very much. And I had a telephone call from Barry Manilow; I'd received a letter from Barry years ago, saying that he'd always been a fan of mine, and telling me how I had been an influence on him when he first started out. He wanted to know if I was interested in doing this album with him; I said: "Sure — I'd love to." Because I think he's a very talented musician — I like Barry. Even though it's a totally different field, I've heard some of his pop records on the radio and said: "Oh — I like that." So I made this album with him, and it was a lot of fun to do also.

But will there be a recording of the present orchestral venture?

Yes, there will — I don't know when, but some time; I hope it's soon. It's kind of difficult these days, because there are not too many companies that are really very concerned about recording jazz. The recording industry has changed; they're enjoying such incredible success in the pop field. Now that it's a multi-billion dollar industry, they haven't got much time for us fringe musicians. Which is a shame; it's an odd form of discrimination against various other kinds of music that are not in the mega-bucks arena.
That notwithstanding, we still manage some things recorded. Of course, do
An album with a symphony is an expensive project, but eventually I'm sure we’ll  get these things recorded.

Perhaps with the LSO, if you do it in this country?

I’d love to — what a good orchestra! Incredible. They sounded so wonderful
on our concert. I'd certainly heard them on records a lot before, but this was my first personal encounter with them. It was a Close Encounter of the Best Kind.”
- Les Tomkins. Crescendo International

Monday, January 20, 2020

Here Comes - Frank Foster(Blue Note 5043)

Joe Morello Drum Solo 1964

Joe Morello - An Interview with Les Tomkins

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Any good Jazz musician has developed from hard work and hard thought, a personal conception. When he improvises successfully on the stand or in the recording studio, it is only after much thought, practice and theory have gone into that conception, and it is that conception which makes him different from other Jazz musicians. Once he knows what he is doing, in other words, he can let himself go and find areas of music through improvisation that he didn’t know existed. Jazz improvisation, therefore, is based on a paradox – that a musician comes to a bandstand so well prepared that he can fly free through instinct and soul and sheer musical bravery into the musical unknown. It is a marriage of both sides of the brain ….” 
- Eric Nisenson, Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest [p. 53]

“I let myself go. I find as I go along, I feel like I’ve learned from many people, and yet I’m told that I’ve influenced other musicians. I hardly believe I’m as talented as some others. Someone with talent possesses a kind of facility and plays well as early as 16 or 17 much better than I could play at that age. I had to practice a lot and spend a lot of time searching and digging before I got anywhere. And because of that, I later became more aware of what I was doing, I wasn’t an imitation. I found myself with a synthesis of the playing of many musicians. From this something came out and I think it’s really mine.”
- Pianist Bill Evans, as told to Jean-Louis Ginibre

“The finger technique, practice method and of the drummer other drummer’s rave about- the Dave Brubeck quartet’s inimitable Joe Morello.” 
- Les Tomkins, Jazz writer and critic

This interview appeared in the January 1963 edition of Crescendo Magazine. It is a rare find and the transfer to the blog format took a bit of doing. Yet, it was worth the time and effort to represent it on these pages due to Joe's special qualities as a Jazz drummer. He was also a marvelously kind and giving human being. Attending one of the clinics he taught for Ludwig drums was like spending time in Jazz Drummer Heaven.

“The amazing Joe Morello beat out impressive patterns on his practice board to illustrate and embellish his statement to me on drumming in general and his unique contribution in particular.

“Yes, I’ve used the same [drum] set-up for I guess the last ten years - except that I added another cymbal about a year ago. They [Ludwig drum kit] hold up well under successive one-nighters and that silver colour is sort of a good luck thing.’

‘Sticks? I usually don’t change them around and added my own a while back. I couldn’t find one that had the action that I like so I fooled around and made some, had them turned for me and they became my model. And it’s not too bad, although they have been coming through kind of thin lately.’

Joe added ruefully - ‘The new Buddy Rich model is similar to mine - only a little heavier.

When I asked him how he tuned his drums he said that [trombonist, composer, and arranger Bill Russo had posed the same query to him a few nights earlier. ‘He liked the snare drum sound and wondered if I had any trouble turning them over here [At the time of this interview, Joe may still have been using cow hide heads on his drums and they would have been affected by England’s wet climate].’ I told him: “Not too much.”

‘There was one night on the tour when we arrived late and I didn’t have the chance to check the drums. The small tom-tom sounded like a tympani.

‘But usually when they arrive at the hall they get accustomed to the temperature inside. And so when I get there about fifteen minutes before the show, I tighten them up and tune them to my liking.

‘There’s not really a set way of doing it. The only thing I suggest on tuning is that I keep the snare drum head fairly tight and the batter head [bottom snare drum head] a little looser. A lot of people go around turning their drums a fifth and a fourth - b-flat on the bass drum and so on. I’ve never bothered doing that. I just tune them so that they sound good to me.

Inevitably, I brought up Joe’s seemingly-magical finger technique to find out how long it has been a part of his playing and how he set about perfecting it.

‘This finger control thing is something that started a long time ago in the French Conservatory. That was the first school to utilise this way of manipulating the sticks.

‘I never studied in France or anything but years ago in my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, I used to sit for hours trying to figure out how they could sustain this single beat with the left hand.

‘Before that it used to be all stiff wrist, much like a lot of the boys here in England are doing it. They are holding it stiff, which is not the way to do it.

‘I was just trying to figure, letting the stick rebound real loose - by itself. Of course the teacher I was with at the time said “No, you must never let the stick rebound.” ‘This was supposed to be wrong. There was a taboo on the thing.

‘Then Louie Bellson came through with the Tommy Dorsey band. He was playing this way. He got it from Murray Spivak in Hollywood, who used to teach it quite well. [Murray taught privately for many years in his clinic and was the drum master other drummers went to when they had problems with their playing]. Louie had a good understanding of it. So I talked to him and he gave me the basic principle of it, which opened a lot of doors for me.

‘I took it upon myself to analyze it and to develop it to suit my own personality in playing. That is to say I adopted it anatomically to fit what I can do with my hands. I do it a little differently from Louie - and I think everyone else does because it is sort of an individual thing.

‘Ever since that time, Louie and I have been getting together periodically to discuss this.


I’d like to mention another teacher here, who is dead now, but who in my opinion was the greatest drummer in the world - thought I can’t stand the term when applied to Jazz drumming. He was Billy Gladstone. He was a fantastic drummer. He had all these things going. He was the best exponent of it. [Billy Gladstone was a famed Broadway show drummer who often shared the percussion platform with Max Manne, the father of Jazz drummer Shelly Manne, with whom he became close friends].

‘He was a great influence as far as my hand development, technique and sound are concerned. He taught me a lot and helped me tremendously. Swinging drum solos weren’t “his cup of tea” - but for touch, technique and speed, he was the closest to a genius I’ve ever seen.

‘For the past four or five years, I’ve been in the process of writing a book about finger control. I’ll probably never finished it. Murray Spivak told me he’s been trying to write a book since 1951. It’s easier to demonstrate than put on paper.

‘The principle is relatively simple, although the application is a little more difficult. The stick is propelled with the finger instead of the wrist and arm. All you are doing is rebounding the stick with the first finger. But it has to be done with control. There must be no tension in the arm and hand, so as to get a loose handhold between the thumb and third finger.

‘The best way to practice it is to get a full turn of the left wrist, letting the stick bounce freely. As you close your first finger down, you’ll feel the pull. It’s a matter of sustaining that. It takes considerable practice over long periods.

‘I’ve been reasonably successful with it although for the last six months, I haven’t had time to devote to a practice schedule to keep it in shape.

‘The technical part of drumming is strictly physical. It requires a certain amount of training and exercise each day to maintain a decent technique.

The Tympani Grip

‘The tympani grip? [Matched-sticks grip]. There’s nothing wrong with doing it this way if you like it. This is a natural way of holding the stick  For me - I feel very comfortable playing the orthodox way, especially when I’m behind the drum set. I have the high-hat cymbal on one side and everything and I feel cramped if I don’t do it this way. I’m used to this way, but I’m not opposed to the other way.

On rules and their flexibility - ‘There are several different stages in one’s development. The beginner should stick to the rules. You can’t break the rules unless you know them.

‘Once you know the rules, you can alter them to suit your personality. But when you are first going to a teacher and he says “Do it this way,” you should say: “But it’s easier this way.” It might be easier at that moment but in the long run you might be heading for an endless pit. There are certain basic rules anatomically for playing drums that should be adhered to. Eventually there will be individual characteristics that will sneak into your playing.

On teachers as opposed to books: ‘Printed matter is great - it has pictures and text, as far as that goes. But a teacher can demonstrate a thing for you. That’s the difference. All you have with a book is a visual notation of an idea - but you can’t hear it. Whereas a teacher is telling you and showing you at the same time, so you can hear how it should sound.

‘You may see something written down and do it as written, but you may not be executing it the way the author had in mind. The teacher can tell you this. Hands and wrists vary a lot, so everybody has different problems. In the initial stages, a teacher can help you to solve them.

‘ It’s important to get a good teacher. There are very few people who have done anything worthwhile on drums who haven’t studied first including, Louie Bellson (who is a very schooled musician), Buddy Rich and Max Roach. A lot of Jazz drummers will try to create an image and say: “I never studied or practised.” But if you use your head this is a lot of nonsense. It’s like my saying: “I don’t eat for five weeks at a time.” You’d laugh at me.

Joe went on to speak on a more personal level. He explained his purpose in practicing: ‘I never practice hot licks. I practice for development. My practice board is like an exercise bar, like a boxer with a punching bag - strictly for developmental purposes.

‘Now when I’m playing - from practicing so much and studying - my hands will respond to whatever I want to do - within reason.

‘I don’t think I’ll ever reach my goal. I hear some things and I may never reach them. I would like to develop flawless technique which would allow me to play what I want to play anything that comes into my mind.’

He outlined his attitude about working in a rhythm section: ‘When I am playing Jazz drums, I try to complement all that is going on around me. If it is an exciting group, you let your feeling take over. If I feel that it requires accents with the left hand and with the bass drum - fine. If I feel that the mode of the music calls for straight rhythm, I’ll play just that. There are no set rules. Again, it’s individualism.

‘I don’t believe that a drummer show throw in a flurry of accents and bass drum kicks if they are meaningless. I don’t think this makes any sense.

Joe referred to the difficulty of writing Jazz feeling into an arrangement: ‘A drum part for a big band - or any group in the Jazz idiom - is written more as a cue sheet. You have all your cuts where the band stops. You might also have a two-bar pick up. And usually they will mark in just the brass figures in the band.


‘Now this is where interpretation comes in - and a teacher can take you over a lot of these hurdles if he knows anything about Jazz interpretation.

You take four eighth notes. They will be written one after another and the brass will phrase them in more of a 12/8 feeling. But if the arranger has to sit down and break each measure down into 12/8 time and put the triplets in, the measure would be eight inches long.

‘So this is something that a drummer has to get used to - learning how to see one thing and phrase it differently.

‘Reading is very important today. Drums have developed to such a degree that it’s no good anymore for a fellow to just pick up the sticks and beat out a hot drum solo. Today, the drummer adds tonal color to the band. He’s playing more with the band. He’s more of an integral part of it and he’s depended on more than he was years ago.

‘Years ago a drummer was just seen and in a lot of cases wasn’t heard and didn’t mean anything. When they hired the band they’d day: “I want seven musicians and a drummer.” Now the drummer has to be a musician, too.’”

Here’s more of Joe’s brilliant drumming in a 1961 video featuring the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet in a performance of Castilian Blues.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Jimmy Heath REALLY BIG The Picture of Heath

Remembering Jimmy Heath 1926 -2020. R.I.P. 


© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

These days it seems, insert notes are often a rather perfunctory affair, if they are included at all, in the release of new music in a hard copy format.

But that’s not the case when Simon Spillett writes them. One gets one’s money’s worth and then some when Simon authors these annotations as he does not spare the ink when he puts pen to paper to produce comprehensive essays with a point of view about the music in question. 

And deservedly so, too, when it comes to an artist of the magnitude and magnificence of Sonny Rollins. Simon prepared the following narrative for
Sonny Rollins Plays the Blues [Acrobat 3273].

By way of background, Simon Spillett is a first-rate Jazz tenor saxophonist and an authority on the music of many of the great players of the instrument who blossomed during the second half of the 20th century, both in Great Britain and in the USA.

He is the author of The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes which Equinox has recently published in a second edition. You can locate my review of it by going here.

In addition to fronting his own quartet and big band, Simon has won several awards for his music, including the tenor saxophone category of the British Jazz Awards (2011), Jazz Journal magazine, Critic's Choice CD of the Year (2009) and Rising Star in the BBC Jazz Awards (2007).

Simon has previously shared essays on Hank Mobley, Hank with Miles Davis, Booker Erwin, Stan Getz and Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. on this page.

Simon has his own website which you can visit via this link.
© -  Simon Spillett, copyright protected; all rights reserved, used with the author’s permission.

“I am a naturally intuitive player, so I just do what comes naturally. I don't have any guideposts, nor do I say to myself, 'Gee, I'm going to do this.' I just want to play, you know?”

- Sonny Rollins

“As any jazz musician who has carved out a career over multiples of decades will tell you there are few more irksome things than having to talk endlessly about what you once did on single recording date years ago, somewhere near the dawn of your career. Just ask Sonny Rollins. Now in his late eighties and retired from performing due to a chronic lung condition, up until 2012 he remained a highly creative force with which to be reckoned, a player whose pile-driving, intense inventions made nonsense of the old suspicion that as he ages a jazzman's wellspring of ideas is apt to run dry. If Rollins in his seventies, often playing with musical accomplices that complemented rather than challenged him unlike in his 1950s heyday, was shade less voluble than of yore who cared? He was still out there, finding new flavours within whatever musical chestnut took his fancy, utterly consumed by the here and now. 

And, as he'd always done, he was still playing the blues. Indeed, in this writers one and only experience of Rollins in concert – an appearance at the acoustically less-than-ideal setting of The Barbican in London in autumn 1996 – it was with an overflowing demonstration of this particular skill with which the saxophonist opened the show. Having got hopelessly lost on the journey there, I was over twenty-five minutes late in arriving and edging to my seat I was greeted by wave after wave of invention coming from the stage, as Rollins poured body and soul into a solo that were I not young and stupid enough to not know better might have made me abandon any thoughts of being a jazz saxophonist right there and then. “Astonishing”, I remarked to the man seated next to me. “What was the opening number?”

“This is the opening number,” he shot back, eyebrows raised.

That Sonny Rollins could wring such fresh creations from a harmonic sequence that is both as old as the hills and, at root , the most basic of all three-chord tricks should really have come as no surprise. Early on in his solo career – at a time when he was still effectively a member of the band of drummer Max Roach – he released an LP named Saxophone Colossus, its title rather more controversial at the time than it may now appear. True, Rollins possessed both the instrument and the physical stature to render it superficially accurate but the inference was clear: here was the next giant of jazz tenor -watch out!

All this would have been nothing more than mere record label hyperbole were it not for that fact that once a record deck's tone arm found the discs grooves all the loaded claims the word colossus implied were irrevocably proved to be true.

Ever since it first appeared in record stores in 1956, the album has been hailed as a landmark. DownBeat's contemporary review (penned by Ralph J. Gleason) awarded it the top mark of a five star rating, calling it “all modern jazz of the first rank” and upon its UK issue in 1958, even the notably sniffy British jazz press abandoned their normal practice of artistic character assassination in favour of high praise. “Records of lasting value are something of a rarity these days,” wrote Jazz Journal's Keith Goodwin, “but here's one that will stand repeated listening...I urge you most sincerely not to miss it.” 

“This is Sonny's best British release,” added Melody Maker's notoriously grouchy Edgar Jackson, “I readily concede that Mr. Rollins deserves the Jazz Colossus description bestowed by the title.”

Over forty years later, critics were still lining up to sing the albums praises. “A sensational improvisers record,” was The Guardian critic John Fordham's summary; “The undisputed masterpiece from this period” that of The Penguin Guide To Jazz Recordings. As such, Sonny Rollins has been asked about the record almost incessantly since it first appeared. “I know that a lot of people think it was an especially great album,” the saxophonist said in the late 1990s. “But it just seemed like another record when I did it. I don't have any special memories of making it.”

These comments aren't the usual, predictable instance of a star performer flying the flag of false modesty. Rollins has always been notorious for a self-critical attitude to his own recordings. Saxophone Colossus is no exception. Nor is his dismissal of it being “another record” anything to do with financial bitterness. The saxophonists Prestige contract may never have been especially lucrative, nor were he or his producer Bob Weinstock all that prescient about its likely sales figure, but by 1961 the album had reportedly sold 25,000 copies - then no mean feat for such an uncompromisingly straight-ahead jazz LP - and has presumably provided him with a steady trickle of composer royalties ever since. 

Although all of the albums five performances set an incredibly high standard of jazz invention, it was thanks to another review, published in 1958, that one in particular became first something of a milestone for Sonny Rollins and then subsequently something of an albatross. 

In the first issue of a new magazine named Jazz Review musicologist Gunther Schuller had written an extended analysis titled “Sonny Rollins and Thematic Improvisation”. The pieces premise was simple – to examine a single Rollins' solo on the Saxophone Colossus track Blue 7, a performance whose very title gave away the basic structure of the performance – that of the back-bone of jazz, the twelve bar blues. Rollins was already one of the most talked-of jazzmen of his generation, seen by many as a genuine heir to Bebop's founding father Charlie Parker (he had recently won a New Star award in DownBeat magazine, a sure-fire sign he was on the up) but Schuller's painstaking analysis elevated him further still, to the rank of an innovator whose blues improvisations had a level of compositional cogency of one “who spends days or weeks writing a given passage”. 

Rollins, Schuller believed, had provided a defining example of the art of jazz. This wasn't a mere “running-the-changes” solo, the popular method of post-bop; it was a musical edifice, a towering achievement from a quite exceptional mind, a colossal accomplishment no less.

1958 was early days for putting a jazz solo under the microscope in this manner and the ripples of Schuller's forensic examination soon began to spread outwards into jazz folklore. Indeed, there was more than a hint of them in Martin Williams sleeve notes for a reissue of Saxophone Colossus issued in the early the mid-1960s. Describing Blue 7 as “a masterpiece” he more or less gave a paraphrased echo of Schuller's findings. “[It] is one of those rare improvised performances in which every part is related to every other part, adding up to a whole greater than the sum of those parts, with details so subtle and perfectly in place that it might take a composer hours to arrive at – yet Rollins made it all up.” In fact, by the time Williams word were written it was becoming increasingly impossible for any jazz critic to fail to write about Rollins' solo on Blue 7 without fetishising it. Even the poet Philip Larkin, nobody's fool when it came to appraising records otherwise thought to be iconic, called “a classic performance of early Rollins.” The trend has continued to this day, even invading some writers thoughts on the remainder of Saxophone Colossus’s contents; in the booklet to a compilation of various mid-Fifties Rollins recordings issued in 2012,  the normally cool-headed Neil Tesser – broadcaster and one-time jazz critic for Playboy magazine - devotes around a third of his accompanying essay to a break-down of what's going on Colossus's lead-off track, the calypso-based St. Thomas, talking in distinctively neo-Schullerian terms and even including timings for the listener to check out his points of reference. 

To his credit, Tesser mitigates that “even without an advance degree in music, listeners have no trouble appreciating the organic unity of Rollins' improvisations.”

But Schuller's analysis had troubled one very important soul who had never enjoyed the luxury of a formal musical education – Rollins himself. Although others would soon see fit to try and rob Blue 7 of its vaunted status (in his The Making Of Jazz, Granada Publishing, 1978, James Lincoln Collier writes “far too much was made of this particular record,” which he though was “hardly an innovation.” “King] Oliver's Dippermouth Blues solo is built around two figures, which keep returning in different forms; [Louis] Armstrong builds his the brief up-tempo section of Muggles out of variations on a skeletal figure.”), reading Schuller's essay deeply upset the saxophonist's equilibrium, and he quickly fell prey to self-consciously trying to create solos in the manner the piece ascribed him. “The effort only left him confused,” wrote Lincoln Collier, “and in time he dropped the idea and announced that henceforth he would not read anything written about him.”

Interviewed by his biographer Eric Nisenson in the 1990s, Rollins agreed that Schuller's piece had as “an unnerving effect” on him. “For a while I kind of said, 'Gee, I'm never going to read this stuff again. The guy's going to have me going off the wall here'. Fortunately, that didn't last long.”

Yet, like all good musical analysts, Gunther Schuller was aware that such a performance hadn't come out of nowhere. Blue 7 was undoubtedly a high spot in Rollins discography,  but it was a peak that dominated a landscape littered with other such achievements. Indeed, it was just the latest in a series of classic blues solos Rollins had been setting down on record with his own groups and those led by others since the early 1950s, and which already included a performance Schuller admitted was something of a blueprint for Blue 7, Vierd Blues, taped on a session headed by Miles Davis three months earlier. That Rollins was in a purple patch was undeniable, but what seems by comparison rather odd is that since the publication of Schuller's essay some six decades ago – which had alerted the world albeit in academic style that Sonny Rollins was among jazz's greatest ever blues soloists – no other writer  or record label has sought to look in detail at and/or concentrate on celebrating Rollins mastery of the format. In fact, this compilation may well be the first ever to do so, or at the very least the first to set out two discs' worth of noteworthy Rollins blues outings in chronological sequence, thus highlighting their inter-connective thread and the significance of Blue 7 within this sequence.

Like his becoming a jazz musician, Sonny Rollins becoming a convincing blues soloist was almost preordained. Even if one agrees with the notion that he was the natural heir to the man regarded as the 'father of the tenor saxophone' Coleman Hawkins, and that, as has been discussed at length elsewhere, the jury is still out on whether Hawkins was ever a truly committed blues exponent, one cannot fail to recognise his gift for improvising on the most basic of jazz' resources. Even the hoary contention that has been voiced by more than one jazz writer that “new Yorkers don't play the blues like other people” (hunt down Ed Michel's insightful notes to the album Blues Wail: Coleman Hawkins Plays The Blues to explore this argument in more detail) can't prevent his inclusion in the list of jazz's truly great blues soloists. But what – or rather who – made this so? If Rollins himself bequeathed the jazz world the idea of blues improvisations as mini-works of art (“a kind of free, spontaneous blues rondo”, as Martin Williams put it) who had first introduced him the raw materials with which to work? Or, more precisely, who had shown him how to play the blues?

As a matter of course, the blues has long been an entry-level test-piece for jazzmen. To quote Dexter Gordon, another heavyweight tenor who knew a thing or two about constructing colonnades of solid musical architecture, “if you can't play the blues you might as well forget it.” Few would disagree with that. Other have been even more outspoken about the value of jazz's oldest source material. Back in the 1980s when Wynton Marsalis was doing his damnedest to act as the music's new Messianic arbitrator, he never wasted an opportunity to remind those listening that all the great innovations that had occurred in jazz were, in fact, blues-based. The great jazz soloists – from Armstrong to Coleman – we were told, had all been highly gifted exponents of the blues. The textural innovations that had occurred within jazz ensemble writing, both large and small, were also indelibly coloured by the blues, and so on. Quite where this left a Bill or a Gil Evans, both of whom were more Debussy than Down Home, Marsalis didn't say, but then his agenda and criteria had always taken a noticeably censorious stance on what and who were the musics true figures of value.

Indeed, post-Marsalis thinkers might have liked to draw an expedient veil over the influence extended on Sonny Rollins by his first saxophone-playing hero, Louis Jordan, a man who was anything but a purist. 
In the years immediately prior to his switching allegiance to the tenor saxophone and Coleman Hawkins, Rollins adored Jordan. “I really loved Louis Jordan and his band, the Tympany Five,” he told Eric Nisenson. “I loved the way that Louis Jordan's saxophone looked. But I liked the music first.”

And it's the influence of this music, ingrained in Rollins during his impressionable youth, that forms the bedrock of the tenorist's affinity for the blues. 

Jordan was no innovator, and as a result had been largely written out of “serious” jazz histories, principally because, judged with retrospective 21st century eyes, he committed two most heinous crimes guaranteed to turn of more high-minded jazz aficionados. First, he was hugely popular – always a turn-off for those looking for artistic congruity – and second, he was a first-class entertainer. 

Nisenson's Rollins' biography Open Sky (Da Capo, 2000) contained a concise encapsulation of what Jordan did, and is worth repeating here:

“[He] played what was called jump music...and offshoot of black swing music and urban blues [which] was a forerunner of rhythm and blues. Jordan was very popular among African Americans in the late 1930s and 1940s. [He] spent most of his time playing the 'chittlin' circuit' of small clubs featuring black entertainment. Although Jordan's only ambition was to create music that provided simple pleasure, he was a superb saxophonist [who] probably could have become a fine jazz musician if he had been devoted to so-called pure jazz (although at this time – the late 1930s and early 1940s – the dividing line between 'authentic' jazz and this kind of pop music was very narrow.)”

Nisenson's is a description of exactly the kind of figure that catches the attention of many a would-be musician but who few serious jazz writers consider of worth. The words “popular” and “entertainment” are seen as confirmation of a cheapening, sold-out compromise. However, despite the fact that a player like Jordan had nothing like the regal standing of Rollins' major influence, Coleman Hawkins, the man he thought “changed the minstrel image...He showed that a black jazz musician could depict all the emotions with credibility” his influence on younger players should not go underestimated.

Much as been made of John Coltrane's admiration for Earl Bostic (with whom he worked during the early 1950s) and of how a stay in the altoists' band had been a key part of the fine-tuning of Coltrane's blues-playing. A player like Bostic – spirited, crowd-pleasing and yet technically impeccable – would have been impossible to imagine without Louis Jordan's example. Indeed, outside of Charlie Parker, these two were most probably the biggest practical influences on a whole phalanx of young black alto saxophonists during the late 1940s and early 1950s (the relationship between Rhythm and Blues – in its original form – and modern jazz is both lengthy and integral, never more so than for young black boppers during the 1940s and '50's).

Although Rollins never worked with Jordan, there can be no doubt that the altoist's ability to play the blues left a deep impression on him, an impression that was there maybe even subliminally before the greater impact provided by hearing Hawkins, Lester Young and Charlie Parker.

The Hawkins/Rollins alignment has long been the stuff of jazz genealogy, the general gist being that Rollins was among the very first tenor saxophonists to marry the lustre of the older man's tone with the off-kilter rhythmic language of Charlie Parker thus “modernising” the Hawkins method (as if this were at all possible with a player who'd always been hipper than hip). This, however, is an altogether rather oversimplified observation, one which not only overlooks the importance of the earlier Jordan influence but which circumvents the equally crucial inspiration of Lester Young, a musician Rollins freely admits also helped shape his style. And whereas Coleman Hawkins was very often only a blues-player out of necessity, Young had made the twelve-bar sequence something of a calling card. It should by no means go unnoticed that the first ever Lester Young record that Rollins purchased was 1944's sublime Afternoon Of A Basie-ite, a fast blues on which Young's playful way with the beat hints at caprices of jazz to come.

“He was tremendous”, Rollins says of Young. “I felt his influence pretty strongly. This was commented on. Somebody said, 'There is the spirit of Lester Young in Sonny's playing.'”

There was also the spirit of other less distant heroes, including pianist Thelonious Monk, with whom Rollins began rehearsing when still a teenager. It was Monk's insistence that, in the words of drummer Max Roach,  “why don't we use the melody? Why do we throw it away after the chorus and juts use the chords?” that was to help put the finishing touches on Rollins art, as well as provide a spiritual inspiration for Blue 7. (If in doubt, take a moment  to imagine Sonny's solo figures on a piano keyboard, those insistent inversions of simple two note fragments of melody, and try not to think of Monk's pointillistic approach.)

So, if Blue 7 was neither a one-off nor a lucky punch why oh why did none of the record labels to which Sonny was signed during his first golden age think of getting him to tape a blues-themed album? After all, this was undoubtedly one of his strongest musical suits? The answer lies firmly in the fact that Sonny Rollins was always more than a one-trick pony. Just look at the variety to be found among his Prestige sessions, taped between 1951 and 1954, to realise this. Ironically, for a label that has accrued a legend for being somewhat slapdash, assembling hastily put-together programmes of busked standards, Rollins' Prestige dates are anything but endless variants of I Got Rhythm and the blues. There are original compositions (Pent-Up House, Valse Hot, Paul's Pal, Strode Rode, St. Thomas), characteristically odd-ball choices from Broadway and beyond (There's No Business Like Showbusiness, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, Silk and Satin, My Reverie even Moritat) and a surfeit of well chosen but not done to death standards, such as You Don't Know What Love Is, There Are Such Things, I Feel A Song Comin' On and This Love of Mine. His Prestige discography even includes a rare-for-the-label appearance by a working band – the Brown/Roach Quintet – who Rollins hijacked en-masse for the album Sonny Rollins Plus Four. There's even a session with the saxophonist supporting a vocalist, Earl Coleman of Charlie Parker/Dark Shadows fame.  

Compare these recordings with the seemingly never-ending round of studio jams trotted out during the same period by Rollins' Prestige label-mate Gene Ammons, or to the patchwork way in which the imprint assembled its releases by John Coltrane. 

Likewise, look at Rollins' records on Blue Note and Riverside, which by and large comprise distinct programmes of varied material, as opposed to opportune “blowing” sessions.

All the above evidence points to the fact that Rollins, free-wheeling improviser though he was, appears to have thought very carefully about the programming of his albums. A collection of blues would have worked, certainly, but perhaps he saw it as simply having too little variety, too little creative stimulus as an LP-length playlist? 

Other saxophonists of Rollins' generation were less cautious though. Sonny Stitt, for one, whose Sonny Stitt Blows The Blues (Verve) is a powerful account of his superhuman ability to mine any chord sequence for musical gems, however simple and regardless of tempo. Stitt's working rationale in the studio, however, was about as far removed from Rollins' as can be imagined. In fact, in the late 1950s, the period which Rollins later recalled with a certain amount of regret as his most “promiscuous” recording-wise (he taped sessions for no fewer than six labels from late 1956 to the middle of 1958), Stitt was taping sessions as if a musical whore, jumping into bed with any and every rhythm section or producer that'd pay his way.

John Coltrane also made his entry into the blues album stakes with 1962's John Coltrane Plays The Blues (Atlantic), although this was by no means a thrown-together, one-afternoon set like Stitt's. Rather it was a result of the saxophonists epic three day sessions held in late 1960, which yielded material both in and outside the blues format. Under Coltrane's harmonic microscope, even this most elemental of musical forms found itself reconfigured, whether by using hitherto obscure (for jazz) keys or by appending the basic twelve-bar template with bass ostinatos and altered chords. Nevertheless, it's highly doubtful that Coltrane ever considered the material he was recording would be sliced and diced this way by his record label. 

Rollins' blues work has even been notably absent from the retrospective anthologising that has become popular since the advent of jazz “reissues” in the 1970s. Under various corporate banners from Fantasy to the Universal Music Group, Prestige have latterly released a series of blues-themed CDs celebrating the work of several prominent names signed to the label during the Fifties and Sixties -  including Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane – but for some unknown reason Rollins had never qualified for the same treatment. Quite why, nobody knows. One possible reason that for years the saxophonists legendary penchant for off-the-wall material has rather blinded people to his other skills – after all, what makes for more copy? – Sonny Rollins playing Al Jolson or Sonny Rollins playing a blues? By the same token, the same kind of revisionist thinking would have us prefer to see a direct link between Rollins and Hawkins but ignore that between Rollins and Louis Jordan. Above all, it's what the jazz history books like to tell us: Rollins - Hawkins disciple who chooses odd tunes. Not Rollins blues player steeped in the traditions of black popular entertainment. Rollins coming out of Body and Soul. Not Rollins coming out of Nobody Here But Us Chickens.

It's therefore with a hint of trepidation that this compilation attempts to collate a series of Sonny Rollins' blues performances, taped for no fewer than half a dozen labels including Prestige, some under the leadership of other musicians, into a cohesive collection. That said, the results are by no means as disconnected and diverse as this approach might suggest. Even allowing for differences in recording techniques and studio sounds – and the contrasting ambience of two live items – what emerges is a remarkably consistent catalogue of Sonny Rollins, blues master. Actually, this uniformity of excellence is hardly a revelation, given that over half the performances heard here come from a mere eighteen month window, an astonishingly creative patch in which Rollins quite literally came up with one recorded masterpiece after another. The pieces that lay just outside these parameters are just as fascinating, reminding us that any great artists most productive period is almost always part of a continuum and not an isolated outburst.

CD ONE: Sonny The Leader

The first track actually dates to Rollins' initial recording session as a leader (after a try-out on an earlier Miles Davis-led date). Cut at a length suitable for issue as a 78rpm, Scoops eventually appeared on a 10” LP and makes a pithy introduction to the tenorists blues soloing. Instantly apparent is his ability to make one note do a lot of work – a lesson absorbed from Lester Young – and his brief improvisation, following the pecked figure that comprises the theme, is notably relaxed for one still only in his very early twenties. The rhythm section of pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Art Blakey were all running mates of the saxophonists at this time. 

Another two regular Rollins' confrères are featured on Solid, a blues from an August 1954 session originally released on a 10” LP but later expanded to 12” length as Moving Out. Trumpeter Kenny Dorham's sweetish tone and fluid lines a make a nice contrast with the weight and power of Rollins' solo, which includes some startling double-time passages. The pianist here, Elmo Hope, was an especially close friend of Rollins, the two men having briefly served a prison sentence together (for narcotics offences) in 1952, one of the darkest years of the saxophonists early career. The theme – coming from the same vintage as several better-known Rollins pieces such as Airegin, Oleo and Doxy – reveals as similar fascination with reducing the rules of bebop to something more earthy, the very goal of the Hard Bop revolution then taking place in New York's clubland.

John Coltrane and Rollins had met as early as 1950 when Miles Davis employed the two for a dance gig at New York's Audubon Ballroom. By 1956, when Tenor Madness was taped, Coltrane had gone on to claim the  tenor chair in Davis new quintet, an offer the trumpeter had initially made to Rollins. 
Exposure in this new role quickly gained Coltrane notoriety as an up and coming new tenor contender –  a figure who would, within a few short years, come to rival Rollins as the influence on younger saxophonists. The two men were always friends but theirs was sometimes a complex interaction, occasionally pushed off-course by jazz-critic induced gossip and here-say. This simple, extended exploration of one of bebop's most-played blues heads (it had been recorded ten years earlier under the title of Royal Roost) was their only on-record summit, and something of an ad-lib one at that. Rollins was recording with the Davis' quintet rhythm section and so Coltrane came along for the ride, resulting in an impromptu invitation to jam a blues. Coltrane solos first, playing seven choruses which demonstrate among other things, his already unmistakable signature sound. Rollins follows – mellower in tone and more more rhythmically relaxed, offering eight definitive blues choruses. After the record was released – inevitably titled after their face-off - the two men wondered whether they should repeat the exercise. Coltrane was characteristically self-effacing, telling Rollins “Aw man, you were just playing with me.” Sadly, they never did, leaving this twelve-minute souvenir to add the litany of other great jazz what-ifs.

In the months after Saxophone Colossus was taped, Rollins was far from idle. Still a member of the Max Roach Quintet (a band now trying to find its feet following the road accident that had claimed its co-founder, trumpeter Clifford Brown and pianist Richie Powell), he also continued to record for Prestige. On his final set for the label (taped the same day as his appearance on the Thelonious Monk album Brilliant Corners – see below), he and Roach filled out the contract with what was, by Rollins standards, a rather aimless series of jams of standard sequences, issued on the album Tour De Force. Inevitably “a dynamic blues”, as sleeve annotator Ira Gitler described it, was a mandatory inclusion, resulting in Ee-Ah, a performance in which Rollins appears determined to squeeze every last drop of creative juice from a simple, repeated figure. On the surface, this was Gunther Schuller's “thematic improvisation” played to its logical endgame. But there were possibly other influences at play. Rollins may have been remembering Charlie Parker, who'd sometimes used exactly this method (intriguingly when several previously unreleased takes of Parker's 1950 Blues [Fast] were issued commercially in 2016, the earliest attempts took exactly the same tack as Ee-Ah, Bird worrying a tiny musical figure over and over.) As Miles Davis recalled in his autobiography, Rollins had labelled this variant of Parker's style “pecking – when a horn players uses real short phrases.”

A week after his valedictory session for Prestige, Rollins inaugurated his new contract with Blue Note records, assembling a quintet featuring (alongside Roach) trumpeter Donald Byrd and pianist Wynton Kelly. Famously, unlike his previous label affiliation, Blue Note paid for a day of rehearsal ahead of a recording, very often giving their records an edge of polish missing from those on Prestige. Sonny Rollins Volume One, included the appropriately titled Bluesnote, a theme which even die-hard fans of the saxophonist rarely if ever mention as among his wittiest inventions. Actually, it's scarcely a composition at all, more of a four bar fanfare from the two horns leaving an open space for the saxophonists improvised thoughts before Byrd rejoins him for an off-hand closing remark. At the time of this recording, the trumpeter was among the busiest recorded jazz stars of the era, appearing on over thirty album dates during 1956 alone. Once seen as a possible heir to Clifford Brown, Byrd's consistency and over-exposure soon found him used as something of whipping boy for certain jazz critics, who accused him of being altogether too facile and faceless. Here, something of his leaders rhythmic audacity seeps into his work, aided greatly by the perpetually groovy-sounding Kelly at the piano.
Rollins himself sounds majestic, his tone somehow richer and fuller than on his previous Prestige sessions (although both Blue Note and Prestige utilised the same studios – Rudy Van Gelder's in Hackensack, New Jersey – somehow Van Gelder's mix for the formers releases always had an extra something).

Misterioso, from Rollins second Blue Note date the following spring, is nothing less than a textural masterpiece, featuring both its composer Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver at the piano (Monk comps for Rollins, Silver for trombonist J. J. Johnson). The contrasting approaches of the two hornmen and their respective accompanists is fascinating, Rollins and Monk audibly working off the melody line (with its clever use of broken sixth intervals), while Johnson and Silver hew closer to a traditional Hard-Bop blues. 

Once again, the tenorist's sound is gloriously captured, its body and fullness a reminder that it was Rollins who had set out the tonal template for a whole coterie of emerging young tenors from Clifford Jordan to Junior Cook and beyond - “the leader of an entire school of contemporary, modern tenormen”, as annotator Robert Levin described him.

Levin also thought Misterioso “an extremely intelligent example of A&R work” which had led to “[a] rendition...no modernist collector should be without.” He might have added that Rollins solo was yet further proof of his increasingly refined skill at thematic variation.

The late 1950s were a peak time for independent jazz record labels and it was no surprise that Rollins found himself head-hunted by virtually all the most significant imprints of the era. 1957's The Sound Of Sonny was a direct result of Rollins' sideman appearance on Thelonious Monk's breakthrough LP Brilliant Corners, recorded for Riverside Records the previous year. Producer Orrin Keepnews and Rollins had struck up and instant rapport (the two would work together again on the Milestone label from the 1970s to 1990s) and, external to Rollins' on-going Blue Note contract, agreed to collaborate on a pair of albums, for which Rollins, who has always let a gut instinct about movers and shakers in the record business guide him rather than monetary desire, agreed to appear on a flat fee basis. “That is the kind of thing that makes Sonny such a special person”, Keepnews recalled years later.  This air of mutual respect led to the sessions for The Sound Of Sonny – which featured the tenorist in line-ups from quartet to solo - containing some of the most carefree Rollins to yet have appeared on disc. Indeed, even one of the sessions “off-cuts” - an impromptu blow titled Funky Hotel Blues – was of such merit that Keepnews issued it as part of a blues-geared Riverside sampler, alongside performances featuring Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and Bobby Jaspar. Despite all this tenor talent, Keepnews was in no doubt who came out on top. “A major force and influence,” he wrote of Rollins in the albums sleeve notes, “you might say he uses the blues here to prove that he clearly belongs among the very best.”

Further proof came three months later on Rollins' third Blue Note LP, Newk's Time (titled owing to the saxophonists supposed resemblance to Brooklyn Dodgers star Donald Newcombe). At first glance, this tenor and rhythm session looked to be a less ambitious project than his previous Blue Note's, yet one of the albums tracks, Blues for Philly Joe, named for the sessions drummer Philly Joe Jones, subsequently proved to be almost as scrutinised as had Blue 7. This time it was Martin Williams who wielded the magnifying glass. Having already written the essay Sonny Rollins: Maturity and Form in The Bop Idiom (1959), in a later work Williams made a thoroughly forensic examination of the apparent thematic threads that link Rollins' Philly Joe choruses to one another. Impressive as this was, the end result, in the words of Eric Nisenson “seem[ed] to indicate that Sonny's playing is more calculated than it might seem on the surface.”

Original annotator Joe Goldberg thought not. “A driving, freewheeling performance, it resembles nothing quite so much as the Wardell Gray-Dexter Gordon chase exhibitions of the late Forties. Sonny sounds here as though he were involved in a chase himself, playing both parts and enjoying every minute of it.”

Whether it could be called a chase or simply some kind of quest for as yet unrealised perfection, Rollins' next (and final) Blue Note recording, taped live at New York's Village Vanguard in November 1957, certainly showed signs of something restless. Recorded over a matinee and evening performance, Rollins had actually fired his afternoon accompanists and brought in fresh manpower in the shape of bassist Wilbur Ware ( a close associate of Thelonious Monk) and drummer Elvin Jones, then a member of the J. J. Johnson Quintet. “You read a lot of stories about that,” he later said, “Sonny Rollins anecdotes about me hiring and firing guys on the same night. But I had to do it...I wanted to play with Elvin and Wilbur, and I wanted them on the record.”

The end result more than justified the means and on Sonnymoon For Two, the début appearance of Rollins' pun-titled self-dedication (he had recently married), one finds him in yet another pursuit, this time seeming as if to be looking for ever more capricious relationships with the fundamental pulse. If not quite yet at his poly-rhythmic best, Jones' drumming certainly gives him more freedom. “The solo is almost like an astronauts space walk in which he floats farther and farther from the craft to which he's tethered,” observed Eric Nisenson. “No matter how far he drifts, he always finds his way back.” The performance was definitely among his lost daring to date, in some sense presaging the radical renegotiations with the tradition that the avant-garde revolution would shortly usher in, and which, according to what critics you chose to believe, would either fuel Rollins next great leap forward or derail him entirely. It also marks the only example on this compilation of the patented tenor-bass-drums format that Rollins has long declared to be his ideal instrumental setting.

DISC TWO: Sonny The Sideman

Happily, the controversy that continues to surround Rollins' work after his 1969-61 sabbatical from performing need not occupy us here, this anthology's span ending a few months before this, his most famous non-performing, self-exile. Instead, it's worth noting that, unfettered a soloist as he undoubtedly was by the late 1950s, Rollins remained a musician still largely governed by the traditional methods of jazz orthodoxy, the very reason why the blues and popular songs remained such an appealing framework for his inventions. Other aspects of the jazz tradition continued to shape his work, one of which was the very pragmatic and practical necessity of playing on record dates led by other leaders. Despite his career as a sideman working regularly in bands led by others (most notable the quintets of Miles Davis and Max Roach) was to all practical purposes over by mid-1957, he occasionally guested on recordings headed by others – that year he made a cameo appearance on vocalist Abbey Lincoln's début album That's Him! (Riverside) – no real surprise, as Lincoln was then Roach's wife – and in December of that year made a similar appearance on a pair of sessions headed by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, which teamed him with his fellow saxophone playing Sonny – Stitt. Finally, in summer 1958, he cropped up as a guest on an album by the Modern Jazz Quartet, reprising a partnership that had already gone on-record in 1953.
These last named albums may have been one-offs, but throughout the golden period documented by the recording on Disc One of this collection, Rollins was continuing to record with his regular employers. Disc Two showcases some of his finest blues-based playing from these sessions.

Bluing dates back to 1951 to a session that was Rollins second appearance on Prestige and his second recording with Miles Davis, and it shows the trumpeters post-Birth of The Cool shift towards far more visceral musical settings, sowing the seeds for the style that would soon be labelled Hard Bop. “When Jackie and I played with Miles,” says Rollins, “it was sort of an antidote to Miles's playing with Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz...it was sort of a sharp break with that direction.”

Indeed, with men like Rollins and altoist Jackie McLean (a close friend of the tenorists at this point) at his side, Davis had in harness two of the most prominent heirs to the Charlie Parker tradition. Concerned less with ensemble playing and more on no-nonsense improvisation, he and his sidemen took full advantage of the new microgroove technology to come up with several extended performances – first released on the 10” LP Blue Period, titled with a nod to one of Davis' heroes, Pablo Picasso - which the leader thought “my best work in a long time.”

“Sonny played his ass off on that album,” he remarked in his autobiography. And so Rollins does, with Bluing offering an energetic reminder that he was, for all his thematic through-thinking, a child of bebop. The ragged ending (after which Davis admonishes drummer Art Blakey) shows just how informal Prestige sessions of this era could sometimes be.

Four years later, in spring 1956, Rollins made his final appearance on a Davis studio date, taking part in a session that sits right in the middle of the trumpeters celebrated series of quintet albums with John Coltrane.  The recording was another which Davis had agreed to make in order to clear his contract with Prestige, having already signed to Columbia with a view to moving over exclusively to his new label in 1957. Even as something of a make-weight (Davis retained only Paul Chambers from his regular band and besides Rollins brought in pianist Tommy Flanagan and drummer Art Taylor), the session yielded three magnificent performances of which Vierd Blues – a composition Davis and Chambers recorded under various titles but now known to have been written by John Coltrane – was the highlight. Rollins's solo, which Gunther Schuller had noted was something of a precursor to Blue 7, is indeed a thing of beauty and in its notably gentle, unfolding logic it makes a mockery of the idea that “Hard” Bop always came at the expense of subtlety. Released on an album aptly titled Collectors' Items (paired with an earlier set on which Davis used both Rollins and Charlie Parker on tenors), it quickly became regarded as a classic, writer Ira Gitler observing Rollins' solo “referencing Prez and Bird into his own tender persona.”

In the autumn of 1956, Rollins made his final appearance on a recording led by another of his early champions, Thelonious Monk, the album Brilliant Corner, taped for the Riverside label and now perhaps best remembered for the tricky title track (which took no fewer than twenty-five takes to come up with a releasable master!). By comparison the pianists Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-Are – a weird phonetic deconstruction of the name of the New York hotel where Monk's patron the Baroness Nica De Koenigswarter resided – was like falling off a log. But this wasn't merely a blues, it was a Monk blues and as the Rollins' solo demonstrates, even when playing the most improvisation-friendly of jazz's harmonic sequences with the composer present the melody had to remain uppermost.  

The following spring found Rollins working out his notice in the Max Roach Quintet, the band he'd joined in late 1955 in order to partner Clifford Brown. The trumpeters death in June 1956, only in his mid-twenties, had affected both Rollins and Roach deeply. Not only was Brown a stellar musician he was a sweet, wholesome persona, a soul so pure that being around him made Rollins reconsider many of the excesses associated with the jazz life. Irreplaceable as a friend, Brown's virtuoso instrumental brilliance was also something that couldn't be copy and pasted  back into the quintet. His successor, Kenny Dorham was a superb player but somehow after Brown's death the Roach band never quite regained its sparkle. They were still pursuing new directions though; in 1956 Rollins had introduced a new piece into the bands repertoire - Valse Hot – a jazz waltz no less, then virtually unheard of in modern jazz circles. A novelty at first, the concept took hold and in 1957 the band recorded an entire LP of jazz in ¾ time. Taped whilst appearing in California (Rollins' iconic Way Out West was cut for the leading West Coast imprint Contemporary a week earlier), Blues Waltz is exactly that, a Roach composition that contrives to mix something of the then emerging gospel-flavour of soul jazz - the line-up includes a young Ray Bryant - with three-quarter time. If the band ultimately lack the freedom within the triple-meter that players such as John Coltrane and Elvin Jones were to bring to the table in the following decade it matters not one jot. Dorham's unmistakeable tone – more liquid than that of his predecessor in the band – and Rollins booming, commanding voice are superbly captured by the Capitol Studios engineers, while Roach plays the kind of solo that one writer once labelled as “intellectual-emotional gems”.

Close to the end of 1957, and now a full-time bandleader in his own right, Rollins recorded on two sessions led by the architect of Bebop, trumpeter Gillespie. If his one recorded experience with Gillespie's hand-in-glove partner Charlie Parker had been somewhat of a qualified success (Bird was drunk and delighted in teasing the session leader, former sideman Miles Davis) then his on-record encounter with Parker's Bebop brother was nothing less than a delight. The two sessions were spread across two albums, Duets and Sonny Side Up (issued on the Verve label), the latter title reflecting Gillespie's decision to invite Sonny Stitt along to cross swords with Rollins. If jazz myth is to be believed, the trumpeter added to this piece of A&R genius by telephoning each saxophonist before the sessions in order to tell them that their opposite number was out to cut them down to size! If this is indeed true, then Gillespie's baiting clearly worked. 

Unsurprisingly, the two dates concentrated on the meat and potatoes diet of jazz – an I Got Rhythm sequence (a blazing version of The Eternal Triangle – the ultimate tenor showdown between the two Sonny's), a couple of standards (On The Sunnyside of The Street, I Know That You Know) and, on the deliciously lazy Sumphin' and the Avery Parrish anthem After Hour, the blues.
The former is a quintet performance with Rollins and the leader both in positively crepuscular mood; very often Rollins lets the sheer majesty of his tone do most of the work, playing a solo that, unlike the thematic reiterations of Blue 7,  simply digs down into the bedrock of the blues. Rarely has he sounded so relaxed.

The addition of Stitt on the Parrish theme ups the ante; this time the pushy tempo hints 12/8 time (with Ray Bryant once more providing a soulful set-up) and accordingly each hornman sounds that much more urgent.
Gillespie is the first soloist, before Rollins enters, capturing the flavour of the performance’s title. The Stitt solo which follows, is, if anything, even more down home, mixing lessons learned variously from Parker, Lester Young and, more importantly, from countless hours on the road playing for dancing. Indeed, all three of the frontliners improvisations here support a comment made in the sleeve note to another Rollins album by Joe Goldberg, that “when a musician can preserve this dance feeling and still turn in a jazz performance the result...can be delightful.”

The final track on this compilation has a suggestion of a light, Terpsichorean feel too; a playful account of Milt Jackson's self-dedicated Bags' Groove, on which Rollins joins the Modern Jazz Quartet. Released on one side of a live album otherwise devoted solely to the Quartet's music, Rollins' performance here is one of the few on this collection that can truly be said to sound like an aural realisation of Gunther Schuller's Blue 7 analysis. It was therefore fitting that no lesser figure than Schuller  himself (a close friend and advocate of the MJQ's musical director John Lewis) was asked to provide the  LP's sleeve notes. 

“Sonny was in one of his more whimsical and sarcastic moods that night,” he observed, “[playing] humorously disjointed parodies of Milt's theme. John prods him soberly with beautiful sustained chords. After three choruses he realizes that Rollins will not be swayed and “joins in” with a little discordant semi-tone 'bleeps', which later he develops into a relentlessly building, insinuating rhythmic figure, which Sonny finally can no longer resist. He almost becomes serious for a few choruses, only to return eventually to the prevailing punning mood.”

Schuller wasn't the only one then commenting on Rollins' apparent musical humour. Off-colour quotes – that is excerpts from other songs interpolated into his improvisations (such as Bobby Troup's Daddy weaved into Bags' Groove) – had long been a part of his work, and in his ever-expanding search for fresh and stimulating material he'd alighted on some pretty unlikely and in some instances downright amusing song choices (I'm An Old Cowhand, Toot-Toot-Tootsie, Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody, Limehouse Blues). But whereas Rollins saw all this as a valid and sincere part of his overall musical persona, others believed that he was merely putting people on.
“I would like to hear Sonny play without being – if he considers it is – humorous,” said the flutist Herbie Mann in DownBeat, dismissing the saxophonist's “sarcastic catcalls and things.”

The same magazine printed a damning indictment by trombonist Jack Teagarden, who, when played Rollins version of Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody, observed “he doesn't have much imagination...there's no tone there.” Even European musicians, who had in the main yet to escape the trap of automatic obeisance to their America idols, had begun to question Rollins sincerity. “Rollins is about as subtle as a rock and roll man and has the same ugly sound,” wrote Bob Burns, a Canadian musician working in London. “His intonation is murderous and he's one of that school that makes every tune sound the same.”

It was ironic that some of the very things that had seen Rollins elevated to the ranks of a Saxophone Colossus – his gift for tonal inflection, his ability to make unlikely material sound as if it were his alone, his gift for extrapolating the most out of the merest rhythmic fragment - were now being used as sticks with which to beat him. Critics, however, had long ceased to bother him and when he made the sudden and unexpected retirement from public performance in 1959 it was due to self-disgust with his own playing and a desire to study more, not the slings and arrows of the jazz press. 

To many, the Rollins who re-emerged in the early 1960s was a changed man; personally more at ease with himself maybe but musically perhaps a shade too in love with the idea of following his own muse, as some of his RCA-Victor recordings from this decade were to prove.

He was still playing the blues though and in the intervening years that bracket his 1962 comeback and (what looks likely to be) his final retirement in 2012, he continued to create notable pieces in this format. Like all of Rollins post-The Bridge work, these have varied in approach and often consistency; compare, for example, 1964's torrential account of Blue 'n' Boogie with the interminable, stuttering reading he gave Now's The Time that same year (in mitigation Rollins himself never approved the release of the latter). Even his performances that, in strict structural terms, aren't really twelve bar forms have at their base a fundamental link to the blues; hear 1966's Blessing In Disguise or 1985's G-Man. 

The last named piece was recorded live in concert (an appearance commemorated in Robert Mugge's documentary titled - what else? - Saxophone Colossus, during which Rollins leaps from a high stage and actually breaks his ankle, but carries on playing!), and like every jazzman worth his salt, Rollins has always been aware of the power of the blues to bring an audience on side. Indeed, when Ornette Coleman turned up unexpectedly on-stage at a celebration of Rollins' 80th birthday in 2010 (another appearance commemorated on film, in this instance on Dick Fontaine's Sonny Rollins: Beyond The Notes), it was little surprise that they chose to play a blues together.

And, in another in-person example of Rollins' knack for using the blues to wow an audience, saxophonist/writer Loren Schoenberg recalls “a night in 1988, at the outdoor Chicago Jazz Festival [when] Sonny took to the stage with a medium-tempo Red Top, dedicated to the memory of his old friend Gene Ammons. [He] must have played about fifty choruses, piling one idea upon another, in a mammoth, inexorable exhibition of pure swing, invention, humour, and profundity.” 

Swing. Invention. Humour, Profundity. All of these facets have been present in Rollins' playing since day one – each of them a key component of any one of the solos heard in this collection. 

Sonny Rollins is by no means alone in recognising that the blues remains the lingua franca of jazz. It has always been the emotional cement between the building blocks of his style. Nor is it really a revelation to suggest that his most celebrated improvisation using its framework – Blue 7 – doesn't really stand apart from the rest of his body of work. It's part of a continuum rather than an isolated burst of brilliance.

However, in looking at his other blues improvisations, in particular those both immediately fore and aft of this, his most talked of solo, we may well come to understand a little more about its context. In doing so, we may also appreciate how during the era in which Rollins was a star ascendant, creating stunning improvisations nightly, he is well justified in recalling the performance, and the album that contained it, as unexceptional.

“It just seemed like another record,” he says modestly. But for us to describe Blue 7, or indeed any of the performances heard on this collection (a veritable Blue 17) in a similarly dismissive tone would be to miss the point entirely. That would be like describing Rollins himself as “just another saxophonist” and nobody but nobody would dream of doing that. The truth is they are not “just another blues”: they  are Sonny Rollins' blues and, as Gunther Schuller perceptively pointed out sixty years ago, a Rollins' blues is blues like no other.”

  • Simon Spillett
July 2018

DISC ONE – Sonny The  Leader

1. Scoops (Rollins)

Sonny Rollins Quartet

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Kenny Drew (piano); Percy Heath (bass); Art Blakey (drums) 

Apex Studios, New York City, December 17th 1951
Originally issued on 10” LP  Prestige PRLP 1317 – Sonny Rollins Quartet

2. Solid (Rollins)

Sonny Rollins Quintet

Kenny Dorham (trumpet); Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Elmo Hope (piano); Percy Heath (bass); Art Blakey (drums) 
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, August 18th 1954
Originally issued on the 10” LP Prestige PRLP 186 – Sonny Rollins Quintet featuring Kenny Dorham

3. Tenor Madness (Rollins)

Sonny Rollins Quartet with John Coltrane

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); John Coltrane (tenor sax); Red Garland (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Philly Joe Jones (drums) 
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, May 24th 1956
Originally issued on the 12” LP Prestige PRLP 7047 – Sonny Rollins: Tenor Madness

4. Blue 7 (Rollins)

Sonny Rollins Quartet

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Tommy Flanagan (piano); Doug Watkins (bass); Max Roach (drums) 
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, June 22th 1956
Originally issued on 12” LP Prestige PRLP 7079 – Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus

5. Eh-Ah (Rollins)

Sonny Rollins Quartet

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Kenny Drew (piano); George Morrow (bass); Max Roach (drums) 
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey,  December 7th 1956
Originally issued on 12” LP Prestige PRLP 7126 – Sonny Rollins: Tour De Force

6. Bluesnote (Rollins)

Sonny Rollins Quintet

Donald Byrd (trumpet); Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Wynton Kelly (piano); Gene Ramey (bass); Max Roach (drums) 
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, December 16th 1956
Originally issued on 12” LP Blue Note 1542 – Sonny Rollins: Volume 1.

7. Misterioso (Monk)

Sonny Rollins Sextet

Jay Jay Johnson (trombone); Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Horace Silver (piano); Thelonious Monk (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Art Blakey (drums) 
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, April 14th 1957
Originally issued on 12” LP Blue Note 1558 – Sonny Rollins: Volume 2

8. Funky Hotel Blues (Rollins)
Sonny Rollins Quartet
Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Sonny Clark (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Roy Haynes (drums) 
Reeves Sound Studios, New York City, June 19th 1957
Originally issued on 12” LP Riverside RLP 12-243 – Blues For Tomorrow (various artists)

9. Blues For Philly Joe (Rollins)

Sonny Rollins Quartet

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Wynton Kelly (piano); Doug Watkins (bass); Philly Joe Jones (drums) 
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, September 22nd 1957
Originally issued on 12” LP Blue Note 4001 – Sonny Rollins: Newk's Time

10. Sonnymoon for Two (Rollins)

Sonny Rollins Trio

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Wilbur Ware (bass); Elvin Jones (drums) 
The Village Vanguard, New York City, November 3rd 1957
Originally issued on 12” LP Blue Note 1581 – Sonny Rollins: A Night At The Village Vanguard

DISC TWO – Sonny The Sideman

1. Bluing (Davis)

Miles Davis Sextet

Miles Davis (trumpet); Jackie McLean (alto sax); Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Walter Bishop Jr. (piano); Tommy Potter (bass); Art Blakey (drums) 

Apex Studios, New York City, October 5th 1951
Originally issued on 10” LP Prestige PRLP 140 – Miles Davis: Blue Period

2. Vierd Blues (Coltrane)

Miles Davis Quintet

Miles Davis (trumpet); Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Tommy Flanagan (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Art Taylor (drums) 
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, March 16th 1956
Originally issued on 12” LP Prestige PRLP 7044 – Miles Davis: Collectors' Items

3. Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-Are (Monk)

Thelonious Monk Quintet

Ernie Henry (alto sax); Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Thelonious Monk (piano); Oscar Pettiford (bass); Max Roach (drums) 
Reeves Sound Studios, New York City, October 9th 1956
Originally issued on 12” LP Riverside RLP 12-226 – Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners

4. Blues Waltz (Roach)

Max Roach Quintet

Kenny Dorham (trumpet); Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Billy Wallace (piano); George Morrow (bass); Max Roach (drums) 
Capitol Tower, Los Angeles, March 18th 1957
Originally issued on 12” LP EmArcy MG 31608 – Jazz in ¾ Time featuring Max Roach

5. Sumphin' (Gillespie)

Dizzy Gillespie with Sonny Rollins

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Ray Bryant (piano); Tommy Bryant (bass); Charli Persip (drums) 
Nola Recording Studio, New York City, December 11th 1957
Originally issued on 12” LP Verve MV 2522 – Dizzy Gillespie with Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt: Duets

6. After Hours (Parrish)

Dizzy Gillespie with Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); Sonny Stitt (tenor sax); Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); Ray Bryant (piano); Tommy Bryant (bass); Charli Persip (drums) 
Nola Recording Studio, New York City, December 19th 1957
Originally issued on 12” LP Verve MG V-8262 – Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins: Sonny Side Up

7. Bags' Groove (Jackson)

The Modern Jazz Quartet with Sonny Rollins

Milt Jackson (vibes); John Lewis (piano); Percy Heath (bass); Connie Kay (drums); with guest artist: Sonny Rollins (tenor sax) 
Music Inn, Lenox, Massachussetts, August 31st 1958
Originally issued on 12” LP Atlantic SD 2199 – Modern Jazz Quartet at Music Inn Vol. 2 – Guest Artist: Sonny Rollins