Saxophone Colossus - Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins
This is as classic jazz gets. It is one of, if not the biggest record for Sonny Rollins. Recorded in 1956, every song is feels so sophisticated yet soulful and smooth. It only has five songs but each one is a hit and Sonny's playing never fails. Sonny plays complex bebop that is very accessible because it is obvious that every note he plays has a purpose and meaning.

In 1956 Sonnie Rollins released Saxophone Colossus which established him as the great tenor saxophonist of the era alongside John Coltrane. It still ranks among th great jazz albums of all time. In the 1970's Sonnie Rollins embraced R&B and funk. He once said “I like to think that jazz can be played in a way that you can hear the old as well as the new."

'Saxophone Colossus' is the most successful of the late 1950s albums that made his reputation. Rollins's playing never falters; he's backed by the redoubtable Max Roach on drums, Tommy Flanagan on piano, and Doug Watkins on bass. Rollins is equally at home with the lilting Caribbean air of “St. Thomas," standards ("You Don't Know What Love Is"), blues ("Strode Rode," featuring a driving Flanagan solo), and a smoldering version of Brecht-Weill's “Moritat" (better known as “Mac the Knife"). If you are new to jazz, there is no better place to start than 'Saxophone Colossus'

Not many things in jazz are perfect, but Rollins's definitive calypso is one of them. The great thing about Roach was how he acted as a bridge from bop into the next wave of jazz (Rollins, Davis, etc). Listening to Rollins “Saxophone Colossus" now, and Roach's work on it is pretty much a masterclass in jazz drums—constantly inventive, yet never showy.

Saxophone Colossus, a timeless treasure featuring Rollins's eventual signature tune in the calypso “St Thomas," His widely acclaimed album Saxophone Colossus was recorded on June 22, 1956 at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey, with Tommy Flanagan on piano, former Jazz Messengers bassist Doug Watkins and his favorite drummer Max Roach.

This was Rollins' sixth recording as a leader and it included his best-known composition “St. Thomas," a Caribbean calypso based on a tune sung to him by his mother in his childhood, as well as the fast bebop number “Strode Rode," and “Moritat" (the Kurt Weill composition also known as “Mack the Knife").

There are five tracks on the album, three of which are credited to Rollins. “St. Thomas" is a calypso-inspired piece named after Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The tune is traditional and had already been recorded by Randy Weston in 1955 under the title “Fire Down There."

In the booklet provided with the boxed set, The Complete Prestige Recordings, Rollins makes it clear that it was the record company that insisted on his taking credit. The piece has since become a jazz standard, and this is its most famous recorded version.

“You Don't Know What Love Is" is a ballad standard by Don Raye and Gene DePaul, given a distinctively bleak treatment by Rollins. “Strode Rode" is an up-tempo hard bop number, notable for its staccato motif and for a brief, high-spirited duet between Rollins and Doug Watkins on bass. The tune is named after the Strode Hotel in Chicago, in tribute to the ill-fated trumpeter Freddie Webster, who died there.

The second side of the original LP consists of two longer cuts, both in B flat. “Moritat" is another standard, a song from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, better known in English as “Mack the Knife." The album's liner notes point out that the Brecht—Weill musical was enjoying a surge of popularity at the time of the recording. This version, full of mischief and foreboding, is probably closer to the original intent of its authors than some of the more frivolous covers recorded by other musicians. Rollins concludes the song by restating the melody followed by a short, soaring bit of ornamentation, backed by Watkins's bowed pedal tones.

Finally, “Blue 7" is a blues, over eleven minutes long. Its main, rather disjunct melody was spontaneously composed. The performance is among Rollins' most acclaimed, and is the subject of an article by Gunther Schuller entitled “Sonny Rollins and the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation." Schuller praises Rollins on “Blue 7" for the use of motivic development exploring and developing melodic themes throughout his three solos, so that the piece is unified, rather than being composed of unrelated ideas. Rollins also improvises using ideas and variations from the melody, which is based on the tritone interval, and strongly suggests bitonality (the melody by itself is harmonically ambiguous, simultaneously suggesting the keys of Bb and E). Also notable is Max Roach's solo, which uses a triplet rhythm figure later imitated by Rollins, again helping to give the piece a coherent feel.

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