Thursday, August 27, 2009

Some of my Favorite Artists (4): Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus

There are musicians who shine brightly on recordings and then there are artists who must be experienced live. Sonny Rollins is one those artists.
In the Leopard's early days of collecting jazz records, Sonny Rollins' work was conspicuously absent. At first, I didn't appreciate the throatiness of his sound and the boldness of his approach. It's hard to imagine now that I simply didn't understand why he had won so many jazz polls and why he was on top of so many people's lists. I found his playing overpowering, drowning out the other musicians. It didn't surprise me that he had been among the first to experiment with pianoless trios, leaving out for me an essential component.

But a friend one day casually handed me a copy his CD Saxophone Colossus, and I finally began to understand the fuss. On it, he plays to his considerable strengths, from the self penned, now- standard tune "St. Thomas" to his version of "Mack The Knife" and the beautiful, tender balladry of "You Don't Know What Love Is". I could hear on this record the melodic, inventive style that made his name.
Then, in the Summer of 2006, I saw him play at The Community Theater in Morristown, NJ. It was a revelation. Even at the tender age of 76, Rollins completely dominated the concert, improvising brilliantly throughout the entire evening. Though to Rollins it was probably just another date on the tour, every number seemed classic to me. He played with such virtuosity and creativity I was shaking my head in astonishment and awe.
By then, I had already fallen in love with many of his recordings, particularly Way Out West and Sonny Rollins At The Village Vanguard, but seeing him live was another thing. I now understood his greatness, And how lucky we are to have him still among us, making great music.
(Click on title to hear St. Thomas)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Roy Haynes

The Leopard just saw the great drummer Roy Haynes at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York last night. He's now my new life model. 
The 84-year-old master musician played a blistering 2 hour set without bothering to take a breath! His decades-younger band couldn't possibly keep up with him and were breaking out in a black sweat. Haynes pushed the talented young saxophonist Jaleel Shaw until the boy nearly collapsed from exhaustion. In case you didn’t know, Haynes is one bad cat. One of the most recorded drummers in the history of jazz, his resume speaks for itself: he’s played in important bands with Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy, Elvin Jones, Stan Getz, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and countless others. The name of his new band is Fountain Of Youth. How apt.

(Click on title for his dynamite tune, "Diverse" from his 2000 CD Bird Of A Feather.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Some of My Favorite Artists (3): John Coltrane

When it comes to music, The Leopard isn’t usually one to indulge in lists.
There is simply too much diversity to bother limiting myself to particular artists, as brilliant as they can be. How do you compare say, Eric Dolphy with Brian Wilson or Youssou N’Dour with Leonard Bernstein?

But some great musicians have meant more to me personally. One of them is the great saxophonist and composer John William Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) Coltrane's music touched me emotionally from the very first time I heard it and effects me just as much all these years later. But it's more than that. It's endlessly intellectually satisfying as well. And that is how I see his sound--a perfect union of both.
Like many jazz enthusiasts, the starting point was Miles' Davis' seminal recording Kind Of Blue, where the great saxophonists' solo on "All Blues" had such warmth and ingenuity that I sought out his solo work, hungering for more.
Next stop was the unprecendented My Favorite Things, a glorious reimagining of a catchy little ditty that in Coltrane's hands became a tour de force of modal style adorned with Middle Eastern influences. By then, I was buying every Coltrane record I could get my hands on, eventually catching up to the later Impulse! recordings, where the saxophonist was embroiled in an inner musical battle, screeching atonally to reach some unfathomable peak.

And I love it all. Coltrane's influence on jazz and music in general is incalcuable, and has been written about ad nauseum by scholars much more informed than I. But what truly matters to me is the legacy.

There may be music created over the centuries as great as John Coltrane's, but none greater.

(Click on title to hear the tune "Crescent")