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)

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