Perfect Album; Plays for Bird

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It's hard to pick a perfect Sonny Rollins album. So many of them are great. They all have distinct personalities and nearly all are monumental achievements. So I made my decision based on feel. I know Sonny, and we often have two-hour phone conversations. I can hear on albums when he wasn't in a good mood, when he was ferociously competitive, when he wasn't fully engaged, when he wasn't happy about something and so on.

The album I chose for this series is Rollins Plays for Bird, which featured Sonny remarkably at ease and emotionally at rest. This doesn't mean the tiger within the artist wasn't awake, just that he was filled with memories and love for his mentor, Charlie “Bird" Parker, who had died March 12, 1955. This album was recorded in October 1956 and was the first Charlie Parker tribute album. It predates Teddy Charles's Word From Bird by several weeks.

The players are Sonny Rollins (ts), Kenny Dorham (tp), Wade Legge (p), George Morrow (b) and Max Roach (d). In addition to Sonny, Dorham and Roach both played extensively with Parker. Legge played extensively with Dizzy Gillespie in the 1950s, and Morrow was with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet. An interesting overlap of bop and hard-bop. [Photos above, from top, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham and Max Roach in 1956]

The album opens with a medley. Sonny starts with a Parker's Mood citation that leads into I Remember You. Dorham plays My Melancholy Baby, the rhythm section plays Old Folks, Sonny plays They Can't Take That Away From Me, Dorham plays Just Friends, the rhythm section plays My Little Suede Shoes and Dorham and Sonny play Star Eyes. The balance of the album is comprised of Sonny's Kids Know, played by Sonny and Dorham and I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face played by Sonny. A bonus track on the CD featured Sonny and Dorham playing The House I Live In. [Photo above of Kenny Dorham]

The pacing, the joy, the sadness and the feel of the solos are all perfect.

JazzWax: Here's the entire Rollins Plays for Bird....

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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