Video: Sonny Rollins, 1959

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For me, what sets Sonny Rollins apart from all other tenor saxophonists in the 1950s is how he makes you feel as soon as he starts to play. For some reason, Sonny's sound hits my heart and mind, making me more emotionally aware. A feeling of seriousness comes over me and I pay hard attention to what he's playing. As much as I admire John Coltrane, this doesn't really happen to me with his work in the 1950s. It's not until the early 1960s, on the Impulse label, that Coltrane articulates his vision on his terms and makes me pay attention.

Sonny pioneers this soulful, intellectual approach as early as 1953, starting with the Thelonious Monk Quintet album for Prestige. By 1959, the sound of Sonny was akin to the penetrating voice of a civil right minister. The same way that Martin Luther King's gentle, lilting voice in speeches can still grab our ear and galvanize us today, Sonny's saxophone in the 1950s holds that timeless power over me.

To show you what I mean, watch this video and be aware of how you feel the moment Sonny starts to play Weaver of Dreams in 1959...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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