Sonny Rollins is one of the last men standing from jazz music’s classic period. During his career he played with dozens of legendary artists including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker. At the age of 81 he continues to travel the globe regularly.
His long career has led him to take two long sabbaticals from the music industry. Each time he returned, his sound was vastly different as he modernized and blended it with the trends of the day such as R&B and funk rhythms. While he would lose old fans and gain new ones along the way, his journey has been one of the more interesting in American music history.
The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins concentrates on what can be considered his traditional or classic period, 1953-58. Culled from his time with the Riverside, Prestige, and Contemporary labels, they represent the brilliance of his early period in which he established his reputation and began to build a catalogue of music that would influence future generations of jazz artists.
The album begins with the self-penned Rollins classic, “St. Thomas.” Backed by pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Max Roach, the nearly seven minute song was the perfect vehicle for his tenor saxophone to explore his West Indian heritage within a traditional jazz setting. His solo, which was inspired by two notes, has rung down through jazz history.
“Tenor Madness” at over 12 minutes, united two of the greatest saxophonists in jazz history as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins inspired and pushed each other.
Some of his material from his experimentations with a pianoless group is included. The most successful was “Someday I’ll Find You” with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach. This unusual configuration forced Rollins to fill in the gaps as well as provide the solos. He issued an album titled Way Our West and an old Johnny Mercer tune, “I’m An Old Cowhand,” from that release is included. Again it was just bass, drums and Rollins, as he showed his ability at twisting a recognizable standard out of shape, while remaining true to the original intent.
The 1950s were the most successful period of his career. The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins gives a taste of that era. Once you visit these songs, you may be inspired to seek out the full studio albums.
Article first published as Music Review: Sonny Rollins – The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins on Blogcritics.