Giants of Jazz
Sonny Rollins was at one of the peaks of his career during 1956-1958, recording one classic after another. This two-LP set is highlighted by the great tenor's monumental 19-minute "The Freedom Suite," an exploration with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach that hints at free jazz and Ornette Coleman (who had not yet emerged) even within its tight structure. The trio also digs into four unusual standards (including Noel Coward's "Someday I'll Find You" and "Shadow Waltz"). The latter half of this two-fer has Rollins (along with pianist Sonny Clark, either Percy Heath or Paul Chambers on bass, and drummer Roy Haynes) improvising on a wide variety of material including "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," "Just in Time" (a classic if eccentric version), and even "Toot, Toot, Tootsie." In addition, Rollins takes "It Could Happen to You" as an unaccompanied tenor solo, the first time he had recorded in that format.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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Rollins, Theodore Walter "Sonny" (Tenor saxophone, soprano, composer.)
1929 Born in New York on September 7 in a musical family. His older brother is an excellent violinist.
1938 When he is about nine years old he begins to study the piano and then moves on to the alto-sax and finally the tenor-sax. His idol is Coleman Hawkins.
1946-47 He begins his musical career playing the tenor sax in clubs along 52nd Street.
1948-49 He gets involved in recording first with Babs Gonzales and then with Bud Powell, Fats Navarro and J.J. Johnson.
1950 Spending time with fellow musicians from the Be bop movement is advantageous from the musical point of view, but harmful from the point of view of the negative lifestyle it offers: depraved clubs, alcohol, smoking and drugs. It is true that Parker of all people, goes to a great deal of trouble to advise and lecture Sonny about the dangers and futility of drugs.
1951 He makes some recordings with Miles Davis.
1952 This is not a very productive year and he occasionally slips into the field of drugs.
1953-54 This, on the other hand, is a good period. He makes a lot of recordings with Parker, Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Thelonious Monk. He writes some excellent numbers (Airegin - Oleo - Doxy). He continues improving his instrumental technique. Towards the end of '54, when things seem to be working out better for him, he moves to Chicago, and, having just completed a contract with a club, he suddenly decides not to perform in public any more; he gets a job as a factory porter and then as a truck-trailer loader. He dedicates his efforts, however, to reading and keeping fit, finding time to attend university. He feels the need to create new interests for himself outside music.
1955 His usual sense of insecurity makes him turn down the offer to join Davis' quintet, and Coltrane takes his place. He leaves Chicago and accepts the offer made by Max Roach and Clifford Brown. He stays with their group for about a year and a half, until Clifford's premature death. His style becomes more and more individual (Valse Hot).
1956 He plays with Coltrane (Tenor Madness). He records the album "Saxophone Colossus", producing a series of master pieces (Blue Seven - Moritat). He receives favourable reviews. In some compositions there are echoes of exotic themes which his mother, who came from the Lessor Antilles, used to sing to him when he was a boy (St. Thomas).
1957 Sonny's magical moment carries on. He records "Way out West" in March with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne (Come, Gone); he is in the studios again in April with Thelonious Monk and J.J. Johnson (Misterioso - Reflections) and in November he is one of the main attractions in a memorable concert at the "Village Vanguard" in Greenwich Village, New York, in a trio, a lineup which particularly suits him, together with Elvin Jones and Wilbur Ware.
1958 In February Sonny produces a far-reaching work, requiring considerable effort, and with social-political aims: the "Freedom Suite", in which he expresses his solidarity with his coloured brothers who are struggling to conquer human rights. He is accompanied by Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach on this record.
1959 He carries out a series of concerts in Europe, and then, just to remain faithful to his reputation for being "eccentric", he disappears from the circulation for a couple of years, the victim of bouts of professional and existential dissatisfaction. Having just got a divorce, he gets married again. He gives up smoking and drinking. Once again he takes refuge in reading and keeping fit and, rejecting almost everything he had previously done, he starts studying the saxophone with such perseverance that it causes great problems, in terms of tolerance, with his neighbours. Following their complaints he goes to practise on the sidewalk of Williamsburg bridge, which connects Manhattan to Brooklyn, where there are only the sirens of the boats on the East River to disturb him. He is occasionally accompanied by another eccentric: Steve Lacy.
1961 He finally returns to the ranks. He plays at the Jazz Gallery in Greenwich Village during the course of a benefit evening for the family of the trombone player Booker Little, who had recently died. Having converted to the esoteric theories of the Rosicrucians, he goes on stage. with his head shaved and a very thin beard. This is no new act for Sonny. He records his big comeback record: "The Bridge".
1962 He makes recordings with Don Cherry and Billy Higgins.
1963 He makes a tour in Europe. In Autumn he goes to Japan and approaches the Zen religion. He is highly successful everywhere he goes.
1964-65 Sonny's artistic career proceeds quietly and without taking any time off. His behaviour during performances is eccentric. Sometimes when performing in clubs he moves between the tables with his eyes closed and bells attached to his neck. His facial features are continually changing: sometimes he has a goat's beard and moustache, or a beard without a moustache, or a moustache without a beard and whenever you get used to seeing him in a certain way he then suddenly appears with his head completely shaved, including his eyebrows, or with very short hair or as mohican. It becomes difficult to attach any firm image to this strange character.
1966 He goes to London, where he records the music for the sound track of the film "Alfie".
1968 He returns to Japan to give some concerts and gets back in contact with his Zen teacher. He travels to a monastery in India in the aim of learning the mystical philosophy of the Vedantas.
1969 He disappears from the scene again, only this time he is intent on abandoning music for good. He does not touch the instrument for two years, dedicating himself to Yoga and the most bizarre kinds of relaxation techniques.
1971 He is back in the limelight, this time in Norway at the Kongsberg festival.
1972-88 He appears all over the world during this period. Between one break for meditation and another he forms and splits up groups, gives concerts, makes recordings and takes part in festivals. He plays the soprano saxophone for the first time on the record "Next album".
It is only right to give Sonny a prominent place on the list of the greatest tenor saxophonists of all time, even though it must be recognised that his performing is often inconsistent because of his recurring "crisis periods".