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Sonny Rollins Recommendations?

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I had an interesting conversation once with Jamil Nasser about Sonny in this transitional period - Jamil said, basically, that in the '60s Sonny was really thrown by Coltrane's sudden and overwhelming dominance as THE tenor player, as Sonny had been the king of the hill prior to this. This, according to Jamil, was the real reason that Sonny began his sabbaticals, started shaving his head, doing the bridge thing, et al. He was just off balance and looking for a way to get back - which he obviously did. But his post-60s decline (of course that's just IMHO) shows how much trouble American jazz musicians, who are notoriously a-historical in outlook and universal understanding (lacking the deeper and multi-artistic knowledge that a lot of people in other forms have) have once they hit some of the limits of their own initial artistic instincts.

just my theory du jour and don't get me wrong, I idolize Sonny Rollins. I just get frustrated when I look at the strange path his career has taken.

I think we need to be careful with the notion that the sabbaticals in particular were inspired by Coltrane's emergence as the dominant tenor player. First of all, the chronology doesn't make sense. Sonny "retired" in the spring or very early summer of 1959; his last recordings are the bootlegs from Europe in March. Trane was rising fast but I don't think the evidence is there in any way to suggest that he had eclipsed Sonny in terms of public, critical or peer-group reputation. Sonny's sabbatical essentially started at exactly the same time that "Giant Steps" was recorded in April and that record wasn't even released until 1960; "Kind of Blue" was recorded in March and released in August. Trane didn't form his first quartet until spring 1960, at which point Sonny had been off the scene for a full year.

Now, once Sonny came back on the scene, it was a different story, with Trane and Ornette in full glory and representing the cutting edge. Sonny clearly was searching for ways to reconcile his bebop roots with the avant-garde -- hiring half of Ornette's band, "Our Man in Jazz" and vacillating wildly between repertoire and concepts. These years 63-64 may represent a crisis of some sort, though they produced some incredible music, along with episodes of frustration. By 1965 I think he was really back in a more comfortable pyschological place both with himself and his music. That begins to change I suppose around 1967-68, leading to the second sabbitical, though I think the issues here really had more to do with personal stuff rather than purely musical directions, though there was bound to be a relationship between the two.

Sonny's own comments about his first sabbitacal have been consistent through the years, focused on the notion that he distrusted his own press clippings, felt dissastisfied with his playing and thought he was letting down his audiences and wanted to study music and his horn more and get away from the rat-race, etc. The self-doubt that has shadowed him ever since seems to date from this period, but at least initially I don't think it anything to do with feeling that suddently the vangaurd of the music had passed him by. By the way, there is a good discussion of lots of this in Stanley Crouch's long New Yorker profile of Sonny from four years ago. There are no links and you have to be subscriber to access it.

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Edited by Mark Stryker

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There's more to it than Giant Steps -

there's Tenor Madness, so the two were clearly already aware of each other in a more personal sense - and Jamil dated this change in Sonny's demeanor from the time of his attempt to break the band down to a trio for more freedom, which goes into the 1950s - as in the 1957 Vanguard recordings, and I would dare say that Coltrane's ascendancey started well before Giant Steps - and I would add, as well, and though this is just my opinion of course, it is based on early and first hand reports of musicians who knew Sonny from the mid-1950s on - that Sonny was the most competetive of horn players, personally driven in a way that he would never admit publically. And so here's Trane, and all the signs are clear, before even Giant Steps, that there was a new guy on the block. I would take Jamil's word on this, as he worked with Sonny on those (pre-Giant Steps) days. He was there - and you are making a mistake to judge the history of personal interactions strictly by discography.

so we have 1959 - Coltrane's already hot, Ornette is around - Sonny knows Paul Bley, who is also feeling the heat -

and in terms of Sonny's "self doubt" - well, I would call that one of Sonny's smoke screens. There was no musician in the world more confident than Sonny, and I take this from witnesses like Bill Triglia, who described jam sessions in New Jersey clubs from the 1950s when Sonny would just wipe the floor with other tenors - sure there is some self doubt, but there are way more complicated things going on here like personal jealousy and a certain amount of insecurity and immaturity. He was human, after all.

Edited by AllenLowe

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well, there's Tenor Madness, so the two were clearly already aware of each other in a more personal sense - and Jamil dated this change in Sonny's demeanor from the time of his attempt to break the band down to a trio for more freedom, which goes into the 1950s - and I would dare say that Coltrane's ascendancey started well before Giant Steps - and I would add, as well, and though this is just my opinion of course, it is based on early and first hand reports of musicians who knew Sonny from the mid-1950s on - that Sonny was the most competetive of horn players, personally driven in a way that he would never admit publically. And so here's Trane, and all the signs are clear, before even Giant Steps, that there was a new guy on the block. I would take Jamil's word on this, as he worked with Sonny on those (pre-Giant Steps) days. He was there -

and in terms of Sonny's "self doubt" - well, I would call that one of Sonny's smoke screens. There was no musician in the world more confident than Sonny, and I take this from witnesses like Bill Triglia, who described jam sessions in New Jersey clubs from the 1950s when Sonny would just wipe the floor with other tenors - sure there is some self doubt, but there are way more complicated things going on here like personal jealousy and a certain amount of insecurity and immaturity. He was human, after all.

To the first point, I have no doubt that Sonny heard Trane with Monk in 1957 and Miles in 1958 and took serious note; I'm objecting to the reductiveness of the argument that Trane so messed with Sonny's mind that by 1959 he had to take a sabbatical. In the New Yorker piece, Freddie Hubbard is quoted about this period as saying Sonny was playing so powerfully you couldn't believe it and that he scared other tenor players to death. Further, having played with both Trane and Sonny at this time, he says that Sonny was definitely the strongest.

To the self-doubt issue, yes, people are complicated, but they also change a lot, and Rollins the human being of the 50s is not the same as in the 60s, 70s and beyond. Just so I'm clear, I don't necessarily view self-doubt in heroic terms or deny that a kind of insecurity came into play at certain times, but I'm less sold on the jealousy angle, particularly as it relates to the sabbaticals.

Edited by Mark Stryker

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"Freddie Hubbard is quoted about this period as saying Sonny was playing so powerfully you couldn't believe it and that he scared other tenor players to death. Further, having played with both Trane and Sonny at this time, he says that Sonny was definitely the strongest."

I actually would argue that this supports my point - because than where would the self-doubt be except in terms of feeling, perhaps, that he was missing a trend?

it will however, be difficult to ever resolve this unless Sonny confesses -

(and actually, so I'm not misunderstood, let me say that I think it's more complicated than simple jealousy, but a sense that he had lost his bearings relative to leading the pack, now that Trane was starting to pull people into his orbit)

Edited by AllenLowe

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Everybody expected Sonny to come back with a "new approach" in '61 or whenever it was. He didn't. He came back with a perfected old approach and rapidly showed how advanced his technique had become in the interim, how those "abstract" ideas he toyed with in the late '50s could now be fully & confidently exponded upon. That says to me that his oft-expressed dissatisfaction with his abilities was real, and that "bridge" sabaatical" was about improving as a player.

None of which is inconsistent with any "feeling the heat" from Trane (with whom he was already a longtime friend, as I understand it) or anybody else. If anything, it's wholly consistent with it in that if you feel the need to compete and you get the sense that the bar is about to be raised, you take it upion yourself to go away and hone your skills as much as they can be honed so you can play your game best - not somebody else's as it can be played.

Too much misunderstood emphasis has been placed on the "gladiator" aspect of jazz. Except for a few really malicious individuals (and Sonny at one point, around markedly lesser players, might have been one of them...he makes no qualms that he used to be one evil cat), the competition, which is very real, is ultimately not about destroying others but about making yourself better/stronger. Or at least it used to be. Rollins & Trane had a love for each other, dig? There was no "Everybody thinks this cat's better than me, I gotta knock him out" attitude. It's more like, "Hey, Trane is really bringin' it. I better up my game if I want to stay in the ring"

Fwiw, those Moon sides of Newk in Denmark from 1968 are just about the most at-peace-with-myself Rollins I've ever heard. Simply amazing, they are. And good Rollins of the last 35 or so years is some of the most purely joyous music I've ever heard. So the journey, no matter how strange & erratic it has been, has been rewarded.

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There's more to it than Giant Steps -

so we have 1959 - Coltrane's already hot, Ornette is around - Sonny knows Paul Bley, who is also feeling the heat -

This also troubles me with the slippery chronology and the assumption of causal influences. "Ornette is around -- Sonny knows Paul Bley"

How much did Sonny know about Ornette and had he even heard him on record or live by the time of the first sabbatical and would what he possibly have heard been radical or strong enough to make him quiver in his boots? Ornette's first record, "Something Else" was recorded in early 1958 and released later that year. The second Contemporary album was recorded in early 1959 and wasn't released until after Sonny's retirement has begun. "The Shape of Jazz to Come" isn't recorded until May (after the sabbatical has started); Ornette doesn't come east to the Lenox school until the summer of 1959 and his quartet doesn't open at the Five Spot until November 1959, seven months into Sonny's sabbatical. Even if we assume that Ornette had made his way onto Sonny's radar by early 1959, it's hard to imagine anything Sonny might have heard (say tracks from "Something Else") that would have made him question his own aesthetic relevancy.

Also, do we know when Sonny and Paul Bley got to be friends, because for this to play any role before the sabbatical, it would have had to have been after Paul worked with Ornette, but before spring 1959 and then Bley has to be telling Sonny, "There's a cat on the west coast that's going to make us all old-fashioned."

What did Sonny know and when did he know it becomes important in making conjectures about motivation.

Edited by Mark Stryker

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Everybody expected Sonny to come back with a "new approach" in '61 or whenever it was. He didn't. He came back with a perfected old approach and rapidly showed how advanced his technique had become in the interim, how those "abstract" ideas he toyed with in the late '50s could now be fully & confidently exponded upon. That says to me that his oft-expressed dissatisfaction with his abilities was real, and that "bridge" sabaatical" was about improving as a player.

None of which is inconsistent with any "feeling the heat" from Trane (with whom he was already a longtime friend, as I understand it) or anybody else. If anything, it's wholly consistent with it in that if you feel the need to compete and you get the sense that the bar is about to be raised, you take it upion yourself to go away and hone your skills as much as they can be honed so you can play your game best - not somebody else's as it can be played.

Too much misunderstood emphasis has been placed on the "gladiator" aspect of jazz. Except for a few really malicious individuals (and Sonny at one point, around markedly lesser players, might have been one of them...he makes no qualms that he used to be one evil cat), the competition, which is very real, is ultimately not about destroying others but about making yourself better/stronger. Or at least it used to be. Rollins & Trane had a love for each other, dig? There was no "Everybody thinks this cat's better than me, I gotta knock him out" attitude. It's more like, "Hey, Trane is really bringin' it. I better up my game if I want to stay in the ring"

Fwiw, those Moon sides of Newk in Denmark from 1968 are just about the most at-peace-with-myself Rollins I've ever heard. Simply amazing, they are. And good Rollins of the last 35 or so years is some of the most purely joyous music I've ever heard. So the journey, no matter how strange & erratic it has been, has been rewarded.

Nicely expressed, thanks. (Side note: I don't actually know the 1968 bootlegs. Who's on them and what's the best way to get them?)

Edited by Mark Stryker

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K. Drew, NHOP, Albert Heath.

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I'm as big a fan of Sonny R as anyone here, but I found the Denmark '68 recordings to be literally too much of a good thing - Sonny would start wailing on "four" or whatever and 20 minutes or so in I'd just drift off...

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Nice to see something besides Saxophone Collossus reccommended, my fav of recent years is +3 and from back in the day I's go with Basin Street or +4 for the rapport with Clifford the the groupiness of Max's quintet, arguably the last 'real band' Sonny was in.

Edited by danasgoodstuff

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well, only way to find out some of that is to ask Bley - which I might try to do if I can reach him. But don't forget that Paul played with Ornette in '57 -

once again I think you're depending on discography more than you should - gotta see if we can check the old jazz grape vine.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Nice to see something besides Saxophone Collossus reccommended, my fav of recent years is +3 and from back in the day I's go with Basin Street or +4 for the rapport with Clifford the the groupiness of Max's quintet, arguably the last 'real band' Sonny was in.

If you can find it:

Sonny Rollins in Japan

784491.jpg

(Victor [Japan] SMJ-6030, VICJ-23001)

Personnel:

Sonny Rollins, ts - Yoshiaki Masuo, g - Bob Cranshaw, b - David Lee, ds - James Mtume, cnga

Song list:

Powaii - St. Thomas - Alfie - Moritat

Edited by marcello

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Just trying to establish exactly how "around" Ornette actually was and whether he could have had any significant impact on Sonny deciding to leave the scene in April 1959. The discography is just one convenient measure for establishing a timeline; more important, surely, would be contact with live performances, but Ornette literally wasn't heard on the East Coast until the summer of '59 at Lenox and then in November at the Five Spot. He certainly didn't become a cause celebre until after Sonny retreated to the bridge.

But the core question becomes: Did Sonny hear Ornette previous to the sabbatical? As it happens, he did, according to an interview I've just come across. Apparently, they practiced together some on the West Coast, which is fascinating and something I didn't know. Sonny's answers here are interesting. Perhaps some will read competitiveness into his words, though I read them more as setting the record straight in an honest, thoughtful fashion. Still, intriguing stuff. I'm willing to concede that maybe Sonny heard in Ornette's playing a degree of abstraction that he himself was striving for and, pace Jim's earlier posting, his inability to realize these ideas to his satisfaction was a contributing factor to the frustrations that led to the first sabbatical. But that is very different from the idea that he was so shook up by Ornette (and Trane) that the only way to deal was to step away -- I still don't believe there's enough evidence to support that position.

Anyway, the interview was with a Victor Schermer for All About Jazz in 2006, who asks Sonny specifically about Ornette: The full interview is here http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=23853 but here is the relevant exchange:

AAJ: So let's talk about Ornette Coleman, who I believe was a big influence on you. Now, frankly, a lot of listeners don't understand Ornette's music, can't relate to it.

SR: Well, first of all, Ornette didn't just influence me—I was a big influence on him as well. It was mutual. Ornette definitely came up with some revolutionary ideas, but I was on the scene before Ornette. I met Ornette on the West Coast. We used to go out and practice together. Then, when he came to New York, he caused a sensation with his group, with Don Cherry and Billy Higgins and all those guys. Ornette put out a record on Atlantic on tenor saxophone, and everyone who heard that record said, "Hey, man, that sounds like Sonny Rollins!"

AAJ: That's really true—I heard that recording.

SR: Of course that would go against conventional wisdom and might be considered heresy. Ornette is supposed to be completely original, but he was actually influenced by guys like me. But, that being said, I certainly have a great deal of respect for Ornette's playing ...

I may sound a little resentful with Ornette because he said in a big newspaper interview that I was one of the guys who was anti-Ornette. But that was untrue. But there were musicians who were straight ahead players and so on who were antagonistic to him on account of his different approach. But I wasn't one of them. I was kind of mad at Ornette for saying that at the time. What Ornette did I think was to play more in phrases and not use so much of the chord structures, which a lot of guys depended upon. So if you're playing a standard like "Night and Day," Ornette wouldn't use those chord structures that were the basis of what most guys were doing. And he also didn't play standards, but mostly his own material, which was based more on phrases than on actual harmonic structures that had been used up to that point.

AAJ: He changed the whole face of jazz.

SR: I think he changed things to a great degree. Let's say this. He was certainly able to link himself to do something different in a medium that had its own rules and regulations. He was able to become a leader and a bright light in a jazz medium which had already been established. I'd go that far. Everybody doesn't play like Ornette, and some listeners like him and some don't, but that's just the way it goes. What he does is respected. It has merit. But not everyone went in that direction. John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis weren't doing what Ornette did. He did what he did, and it was valid, and it was different.

Edited by Mark Stryker

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...the "thematic improvisation" tact had begun to become a little self-conscious to my ears (and in Sonny's later acknowledgement)

Maybe it was Gunther Schuller, more than Coltrane, who messed with Rollins' mind?

I can't imagine what it must feel like to get up on the stage 100s of times every year before a public that expects to hear no less than some sort of miracle of spontaneous thematic improvisation. Trane had it much easier back then. Everybody pretty much knew what he was going to play, and came to hear that.

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...the "thematic improvisation" tact had begun to become a little self-conscious to my ears (and in Sonny's later acknowledgement)

Maybe it was Gunther Schuller, more than Coltrane, who messed with Rollins' mind?

I can't imagine what it must feel like to get up on the stage 100s of times every year before a public that expects to hear no less than some sort of miracle of spontaneous thematic improvisation. Trane had it much easier back then. Everybody pretty much knew what he was going to play, and came to hear that.

Sonny did suffer from the paralysis-from-analysis syndrome and he has said it was exacerbated (my word) by having read Schuller's influential piece. But I think the larger point is that it was Sonny who most messed with Sonny's mind, and that has been a constant throughout his career.

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I agree Sonny Live in Japan is a nice one, we had a thread about it here awhile back, IIRC the CD has a couple of bonus cuts.

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Mark, thanks for that passage from the interview - particularly interesting to have Sonny say of Ornette that "his own material...was based more on phrases," as Sonny is so rarely musically analytical in his interviews, and that particular characterizations gets right to the essence of Ornette's style ("I just listen to Ornette and follow where he's going by the melody he plays" is what Charlie Haden said to us at Slugs around 1969). I still believe, from Jamil Nasser's recollections (and Jamil is/was a real straight cat, like only a few jazz musicians I have known, whose recollections on other things have been corroborated regularly) that Sonny's personal turbulence was related to how radically different the jazz world suddently seemed, and that that radical difference was most directly related, first, to Trane, and second, to Ornette. It's a little bit like what Joe Albany told me about Bird - that, even though in later years critics were able to relate his work to older players, at the time it seemed so new and different as to almost wipe everything else away. I'm willing to bet that a similar thing was happening at that time to Sonny.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Just popped in the VME reissue of "Sonny Rollins and the Big Brass" after many years (the weird channel separation mix is crap, but the music is great):

51S%2BmfIPa6L.jpg

And now I wonder that Loren Schoenberg was thinking (or smoking or whatever his preferred way of consumption is) when he wrote about the brass session that Dick Katz' rhythm section mates are Jimmy Bond and Frankie Dunlop? Whatever info I find gives Henry Grimes and Roy Haynes, and of course there's also René Thomas (though insofar as he's not doing constant strumming he may correctly be considered no part of the rhythm section).

Anyone has any knowledge or knows of any indications that the personnel usually given may be incorrect? (It's not Dunlop I'd say, but I've just stopped listening to catch a live-stream that cannot be revisited later on ...)

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Sonny talking about Ornette is so interesting.

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I am not really acquainted with all the later works but I can’t remember a sloppy  Sonny’s record of the fifties or sixties. 

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11 minutes ago, porcy62 said:

I am not really acquainted with all the later works but I can’t remember a sloppy  Sonny’s record of the fifties or sixties. 

I don't know that there has ever been a "sloppy" Sonny Rollins record. There have been various levels of inspiration (often on the same record), but never sloppy.

Perspective as to "later" - 50s and 60s = two decades, everything else ("later") = roughly five decades. Seven decades altogether, where does "later" being?

It's like Miles, people talk about his electric "period", when, objectively, it was periods, and in terms of years it was more than half of his career.

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4 hours ago, JSngry said:

I don't know that there has ever been a "sloppy" Sonny Rollins record. There have been various levels of inspiration (often on the same record), but never sloppy.

Yes! There are pure nuggets of gold on even the most critically derided Rollins albums.

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Sonny-Rollins-The-Complete-Prestige-Reco

7 CD set, you can get for around $30-$40,  Also "Newk's Time" on Blue Note.  That one and hte Prestige "Saxophone Colossus" are my two favorite Rollins titles.  

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3 hours ago, felser said:

Sonny-Rollins-The-Complete-Prestige-Reco

7 CD set, you can get for around $30-$40,  Also "Newk's Time" on Blue Note.  That one and hte Prestige "Saxophone Colossus" are my two favorite Rollins titles.  

I remember paying about $90 in Canada for that box nearly 30 years ago. Seemed like a fortune and a total extravagance back then. Now - a bargain.

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23 hours ago, king ubu said:

Just popped in the VME reissue of "Sonny Rollins and the Big Brass" after many years (the weird channel separation mix is crap, but the music is great):

51S%2BmfIPa6L.jpg

And now I wonder that Loren Schoenberg was thinking (or smoking or whatever his preferred way of consumption is) when he wrote about the brass session that Dick Katz' rhythm section mates are Jimmy Bond and Frankie Dunlop? Whatever info I find gives Henry Grimes and Roy Haynes, and of course there's also René Thomas (though insofar as he's not doing constant strumming he may correctly be considered no part of the rhythm section).

Anyone has any knowledge or knows of any indications that the personnel usually given may be incorrect? (It's not Dunlop I'd say, but I've just stopped listening to catch a live-stream that cannot be revisited later on ...)

bump - no one?

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