Tag Archives: Sonny Rollins

Sonny Meets Hawk!

A new post is overdue and this one, about an important inter-generational meeting between two of the greatest tenor saxophonists has been slow to materialise.

It was a remark made by Thelonious Monk that led me to seek out and listen to this recording. Whilst doing the the background reading to underpin my recent look at Monk’s Music, his comment delivered as an admonishment:- “You’re the great Coleman Hawkins, right? You’re the guy who invented the tenor saxophone, right?” caused me to reflect on how little I actually know about Hawkins, perhaps the first great exponent of the jazz solo on an instrument I used to play (very badly).

It is strange to learn that it took until Hawkins recorded a version of Body and Soul, almost as an end of session afterthought in 1939 for an improvisation on tenor saxophone to be heard widely. The version became a jukebox hit that retained its popularity into the 1950s and led to Hawkins becoming regarded as the musician who pioneered the tenor as an instrument that solos could be played on.

Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins played together for the first time at the Newport Jazz Feztival in 1963 and it is not difficult to imagine that this session was first mooted at that stage. In any event, posterity was subsequently gifted with a meeting of the two in a studio to record their interpretations of a collection of jazz standards which offers the opportunity to compare the playing of these two giants.

I’m not sure how often Coleman Hawkins is listened to these days. Perhaps many current explorers make the mistake of assuming that he belonged to an earlier era and has nothing to contribute to their appreciation of modern jazz. Certainly, as we will see from this album, there is often an underpinning element of swing to his playing style an some may regard that as archaic. However, Rollins had a very clear view of Hawkins’ playing and he stated in the sleeve notes: ‘Hawkins is timeless and what he plays is beyond style and category. In fact it’s a shame that people tend to categorise music. A fine musician can play with anyone, just as a fine person can get along with anyone.’

Only mono recordings will do for some purists, but this session lends itself to stereo, with Rollins inhabiting the right hand speaker (stage left) and Hawkins helpfully playing from the left speaker. Without further ado let’s leap into the music.

Yesterday’s opens with a trill from Rollins before Hawkins takes up the tune from the left speaker. He plays his solo in the tenor’s lower register with a full luxuriant sound. Rollins then takes over and plays with more stuttering trills. Hawkins then follows up with his own solo with his own slower trills.

All the Things You Are swings along with reedy lower register playing from Hawkins and Rollins introducing some spicy discord in the early stages before sitting out. His own solo is more freely interpretive and considerably more harsh on the ear. Indeed, Ted Gioia writing in ‘The Jazz Standards- A Guide to the Repertoire.’ states that on this recording ‘Sonny Rollins delivers some of the most avant-garde playing of his career.’

On Summertime Sonny Rollins starts with an oblique bittersweet exploration of the theme with Hawkins providing a more lyrical statement, closer to the head tune. The superb Henry Grimes adds an enjoyable plucked bass solo.

On Just Friends Hawkins opens before Rollins comes in with a lengthy exploration ahead of a short solo from Bley and a further swinging statement from Hawkins.

Lover Man presents a beautiful and sensitive statement of the theme by Hawkins before the two horns trade ideas. As perhaps we might expect, Hawkins is the more conventionally crafted voice of the two with Rollins pushing the composition’s possibilities towards rather different territory. You can listen via YouTube by clicking on the following link:-

At McKie’s is reminiscent of Rollins’ St Thomas and offers him the opportunity to play a lively solo on this closing track.

Sonny Meets Hawk is a worthy purchase which repays repeated listening and it remains available on CD at moderate cost. Although from an earlier generation, Hawkins was revered by many of the great figures of modern jazz who followed on from him and it is a shame that he is not more widely heard and praised these days.

The band etc: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Coleman Hawkins (tenor saxophone); Paul Bley (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass- tracks 1,2,&5); Henry Grimes (bass- tracks 3,4 &6); Roy McCurdy (drums). Produced: George Avakian. Recorded: RCA Victor Studio B, New York City. 15 & 18 July 1963. Cover Design: Unknown. Released: 1963. Original release: RCA Victor LPM or LSP- 2712.

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Sonny Rollins On Impulse

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For some time now I’ve felt that I should have a better appreciation of Sonny Rollins and his music than I do. I used to play tenor saxophone (very badly, I hasten to add) and Saxophone Colossus was amongst the first CDs that I purchased when I bought an early CD player. I listened to it avidly, alongside a couple of his Blue Note recordings which I borrowed from the local library and copied onto cassette tape.

Aside from that, it has only been in the last couple of years that I bought and listened to Way Out West and The Bridge- and I have yet to hear Freedom Suite (I’m putting that right next week).

Sadly, I’ve never yet seen Sonny Rollins perform live, although I had tickets for the Royal Albert Hall concert last year that he was forced to withdraw from due to ill health.

Over the last six months I’ve been listening to Sonny Rollins On Impulse. When I initially came across it in a Manchester record shop, I thought it was a compilation and wasn’t that interested. However, it was in near mint condition and that made me take a closer look.

When he recorded it in 1965, Sonny Rollins was at the end of a recording contract with RCA which had yielded six albums. He followed John Coltrane to Impulse, hoping to benefit from the sort of creative ethos that had worked so well for the other great saxophonist. His association with Impulse was to last for three albums and as Ashley Kahn reveals in The House That Trane Built, it was not recalled by Sonny Rollins as the great experience he had hoped for as he felt that he had been ripped off and exploited by people associated with the label.

What of his first LP with them then? On Impulse is a set of five standard tunes, opening with On Green Dolphin Street. Rollins treats this track in a strange way. The head is impressionistic and offers a only passing reference to the tune. Later he is content to inhabit the margins of the performance in a manner which seems to mimic the irritating buzzing of an insect. Not my favourite version of this fine tune!

Everything Happens To Me is rather more conventional and mainstream. Initially, Sonny’s playing doesn’t exactly set fire to the immediate environment and it is quite restrained but there is some very fine supporting work from piano, bass and drums (with a wonderful contribution from the double bass). However, his concluding solo is an absolute masterclass in the art of playing a ballad on tenor.

Hold ‘Em Joe is the first track on the second side of the vinyl version of this set. It is a calypso, which is full of joy and life and which makes me smile every time I hear it. You can hear and form a view of it too courtesy of khimerak on Youtube:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Blue Room is a lush Rodgers and Hart ballad that is sophisticated without losing a light and uplifting quality and featuring silky piano.

Three Little Words is the closest this album gets to straight ahead hard bop. It remains lyrical and Sonny’s saxophone is notably fluent, ending an excellent album on a high note.

It has taken me a while to get round to Sonny Rollins here at downwithit but I’m delighted to have done so via one of his less well known albums, which, nonetheless is well worthy of your attention.

The band etc: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Ray Bryant (piano); Mickeys Roker (drums); Walter Booker (bass). Produced: Bob Thiele. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs. 8 July 1965. Cover Design: Joe Lebow. Cover Photography: Charles Stewart. Released: 1968. Original release: AS-91.

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