Tag Archives: sonny rollins

10 Best Things About Day Two of the Newport Jazz Festival

1. Before launching into his set proper, Miguel Zenon warming up on his alto with the head to Sonny Rollins’ “John S” – an aside that begged to be followed through.

2. The day after Louis Armstrong’s birthday, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire generating a clarion disturbance during the “dare-you-to-look-away” set-starter, “Richard.” 

3. During a set with Maria Schneider’s Orchestra, Scott Robinson getting a sound out of his sax that didn’t scan like a bari, tenor, alto or C Melody that I’ve ever heard – let’s hear it for singular tone!

4. The unison glide used by the 3 Cohens to swoop back into Ellington’s theme for “The Mooche” after letting pianist Aaron Goldberg have some very productive wiggle room. 

5. The mix of precision and esprit brought to bear on Fletcher Henderson’s “Stampede” by Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks. Every inflection and nuance was accounted for while still making the music crackle.

6. Gretchen Parlato’s use of a shaker during her duet with guitarist Lionel Loueke. It barely made a sound, but its heartbeat rhythm bordered on orchestral.

7. Kurt Elling mouthing the words and swaying in place from the audience as Jason Moran’s Bandwagon spun the Eddie Jefferson recording of “Body and Soul.” 

8. Rudresh Mahanthappa’s obvious glee during a scalding solo by drummer Rudy Royston during a set by the saxophonist’s Samdhi group. 

9. Dan Weiss’s tabla intro birthing the swell of the melody lines at the start of Gil Evans’ “Punjab” during the performance by Ryan Truesdell’s Centennial Project.

10. The grin on audience member Marshall Crenshaw’s face as Kurt Elling provided a puckish reading of Kenneth Pachen’s “Job” during the set by John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet + 1. 

+ one extra, take from the NPR archive…

11. The counterpoint groove on the Malian “Jara Bi” concocted by guitarist Bill Frisell and violinist Jenny Scheinman during their early morning duet.

Marty Ehrlich & Greg Osby: In Traning

Fell asleep to “After The Rain” last night. Fun to seen so many Coltrane nods in the last few days. Yesterday, of course, was the great one’s birthday. Lately I’ve been unpacking ancient interviews, and came across chats with Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins about their thoughts on Trane’s approach. Here are two more from that era, the late 80s. Marty and Greg had spent lots of time considering the tenor saxophonist’s impact on jazz, that’s for sure. Think I’ll add Eugene Chadbourne’s thoughts to this tonight.


I once said that Trane had a harmonic density. I didn’t mean it in a “cluttered” sense, I just meant he had a whole lot of options. A lot of players exhaust their options quickly. Coltrane could hold your interest by just playing a vamp, or some modal stuff. He had more resources; he studied a lot more. He was more of a searcher, he never stagnated, he never stayed in one place for too long. To me, the main thing he represented was change. When his peers, or others of his generation, got hip to what he was doing, he was off into another thing. No idle time. Those are things I’m interested in.

There are a lot of people now who are trying to adhere to old principles, old ideas, and establish those as modern day traditionalism or whatever, and that’s cool if you want to preserve the things you think are jazz. But I don’t think there are any dictates or prescribe methods people should have in their playing. Trane knew that.

I heard him when I was still listening to funk. I guess it was around ’74 or so. I hadn’t been playing for more than two years, and we had a little funk band. I’d play my little funk licks on top of “Giant Steps.” I didn’t know any of his musical logic, but I could enjoy it. I knew it was bad, and I knew one day I wanted to get with that. That’s when I discovered Charlie Parker, too. I’d been listening to Ronnie Laws, David Sanborn, and Grover. But I was drawn to the magnetism and density of what Bird and Trane were doing. They were playing a whole lot of notes.

Jazz is about versatility. You’re supposed to derive stuff from all sorts of sources. I hear some players today who are so conservative they could be on Reagan’s staff. The music isn’t really progressing right now because people are afraid to cross a few lines.


Coltrane seemed to be one of those artists who, besides his incredible popularity and meaning to those who listened to jazz and paid attention to black culture in general, was someone who  commanded the attention of many people who don’t listen to jazz. A couple of things made it happen. It’s interesting because he wasn’t a commercial artist in the sense of someone reaching across boundaries today; he was very serious and at times played very difficult music. A lot of that had to do with the times. His music certainly reflected the energy of the ’60s. I’ve found an interesting parallel between him and Bela Bartok: within their respective cultures they represented a few of the same things. People who didn’t listen to contemporary music often listened to Bartok. So here are these two artists who communicated beyond the style they played in. Both were very innovative, expanding the language of their idiom, but at the same time used traditional and folk materials in their music. Radical conservatives, really. They both had visceral emotions with involved processes, so they grabbed you intellectually and emotionally in a way that doesn’t often happen. A Love Supreme was a gold record. It’s very hard to think of a record of that intensity being a gold record in this day and age. People wanted a bit more seriousness at that time. To me he was an example of what a committed artist could be.

He was very consistent. I like all his stuff. At the end of his life, around the time of Expression, you can hear new areas of time, along with some very beautiful harmonic motion. Consistent definitely, maybe a bit obsessive. We hear his long solos, and we’re more used to shorter ones these days.

Everyone has to play out of their own psychology. I’ve never known Trane to play anything funny or tongue in cheek, like Sonny Rollins would. What we learned from him is how hard he worked to find what he had to do. Even though he was a part of the mainstream in a way that Ornette and Cecil never were, he still had to find his own way, which isn’t easy. Everything he played sounded like he had lived through it, like he had felt it first.

Sonny Rollins Talks John Coltrane

It’s Newk’s birthday – number 81. Today it was announced that he’s part of the next Kennedy Center Honors. Next week, the second edition of his Road Shows disc will be released. It contains a chunk of last year’s 80th birthday show at the Beacon, the one that had him connecting with Ornette Coleman. You can hear it right now on NPR. I wrote a DownBeat piece on that night and the following days. But to celebrate Rollins’ current birthday, I dug into an personal archive that found musicians speaking on Coltrane. It was for a mid-80s piece published in Musician magazine. Here’s Newk talking about his pal:

John came into the “Tenor Madness” session by accident; he just happened to be at the date. He had his horn and someone suggested it. In those days, guys just kind of hung out together. I first met him in Miles Davis’ band. He had a big reputation preceding him around New York. The idea of two tenors tangling was a media hype – it always is. It goes back to the big band horn battles. But it was overdone; John and I were close personal friends, and the music was paramount. Saxophone battles and all that didn’t add up to much. We were into developing ideas and finding applications for them.

I first heard him in a band with Kenny Clarke. I remember very well. John and Kenny – it was fantastic. And I recall thinking that John was a puzzle. I could never figure out how he arrived at, or how he came up with, what he played. It was one of the things that made him unique. I never got a better fix on it through the years. Like any genius, it’s hard to get a handle on how they come up with their ideas.

His influence was pervasive. It’s inevitable to have influences. Any guy who’s that much into music is bound to be listening heavily to someone before them…like I did with Coleman Hawkins. The individuality will come out if it’s there. It depends whether the player can transcend the influence. To play what we call modern music, you’d have to have some antecedents.

A musician like Trane shouldn’t be judged in terms of his “early” or “late” work; there was value in all of it. I liked it all. It was all Trane. The best band was with McCoy and Elvin. He went through a lot of musicians to get that band together. He’d compare notes with others, talk about different players. I liked a piece called “I’ll Wait And Pray,” and of course I felt very happy about “Like Sonny.”  A Love Supreme was important because it came at a time when the group was crystalizing its extended works. It had certain spiritual implications, ideas Trane was interested in. I heard it said he was a “political” saxophonist, but it would be impossible to know what was in his mind at the time, politics or no. If anything, his playing was making a statement about religious ideas. But there’s no question the ’60s were full of turmoil. If you wanted to take some of his music and say, “Well, this shows he was angry,” I guess you could. But they called me that, too. How much of it was really true is open for debate. Did he consciously say, “I want to be a political player”? Can’t say for sure. To me he was just a musician playing. But remember, every black musician is automatically political. You can’t help being political if you’re black in the United States; it’s a fait accompli.

Lockjaw Davis recommended John to play tenor. He had been playing alto beforehand. When he went to soprano, I wasn’t surprised. Steve Lacy was the only one who was doing it at the time. John had that sound on tenor, though. You could tell it was him instantly. When you were around him you felt like you were with a genius. A genius and a serious, energetic player. He had a sense of humor, but he was serious. His humor wasn’t about cracking jokes. He was more droll, or wry. Almost like a minister, a minister of music.

Ted Panken has a couple wonderful interviews with Sonny.

Lloyd Sachs has some great quotes, too. 

Sonny Rollins’ Top Six Movie Cowboys

Yippi-Yi-Yo-KyYay! After listening to Kurt Anderson’s overview of cowboy iconography, I remembered that Sonny Rollins recently gave me his list of favorite Western heroes. As a kid, the mighty saxophonist spent lots of Saturday afternoons in Harlem theaters, and he gets excited when recalling both the good guys and the bad guys. Just don’t ask him to sit through tunes by those strum-along cowpokes. That’s were he draws the line.

“My favorite screen cowboy was Buck Jones (above). He had a white hat, rode a white horse. I like a lot of those guys. I was a big fan of Hop-Along Cassidy, Charles Starrett, Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, and Tim McCoy. They were great fun.

“I didn’t care as much for the guys that sang, like Tex Ritter. That was kind of schmaltzy. I was in to the action. In fact, when these guys would go off with the girl at the end, that would kind of spoil it, too – that sort of diluted it for me, too.   High Noon was great. I came up with what they called the two-reelers, no sound except the sound of the horse hooves. No music, just the hoofs. Good guys vs bad guys.  Pretty straightforward.  Those chaps I remember, though. You don’t see too many cowboys with chaps these days.”

He’s An Old Cowhand


Sonny Rollins On Ornette & Birthday Bash

He really had the power flowing at the Beacon Theater back in September. Guess that footage of his confluence with Ornette isn’t coming back to YouTube anytime soon.  Oh well, this clip from the North Sea Fest throws some punches, too. Here’s my DownBeat interview with the master. He’s glowing when he gets to describing OC’s sound and the duties of an artist to move forward.

Foxy Doxy: Irabagon & The Colossus

I missed Jon Irabagon‘s lift-off last night at the Cornelia Street Cafe; I was down the street watching Joe Lovano, Butch Morris and Jimmy Heath get their copies of John Abbott & Bob Blumenthal‘s Saxophone Colossus signed by the book’s subject, Sonny Rollins.  But I did catch an hour’s worth of the saxophonist’s flight, which was largely a careening spiel around “I Told Every Little Star” that managed to spill off into all sorts of other tuneful destinations. I only wish I had packed the 80-yr-old master into a cab and taken him to the gig with me. Irabagon was celebrating the release of his Newk nod, Foxy (Hot Cup), and he was rolling and tumbling with mucho alarm. The saxophonist’s trio – Barry Altschul on drums and Peter Brendler on bass – has a position it works from: jump in, get hot, don’t stop until quitting time.

The rhythmic hurtling that took place during the hour and ten minutes they rumbled together was an homage to the vitality that Rollins has always brought to the bandstand, and Irabagon’s personal whirlwind of melody celebrated the veteran horn player’s bounding imagination when it comes to improvising. The group’s extended roar was a reminder of how a blast of sound, especially a swinging blast of sound, can be its own metaphor for the fervor that a well-lived life is supposed to generate with some regularity – engaging, animated, provocative. (I’ve been getting something similar from Sleigh BellsTreats of late as well.) The rhythm section threw lots of gas on the leader’s fire, especially the rambunctious splash of Altschul’s cymbal work. But it was Irabagon who fueled the action. The outcat antics tickled the packed house, and the sweet and sour moments were always in a balanced relationship. Like Rollins’ most freewheeling work, it wedded stamina with smarts and wound up being some of the most entertaining art I’ve been smacked around by all summer.

Hank Shteamer chatted with Irabagon regarding his numerous ensemble projects in Time Out. Nate Chinen was on the case at Cornelia (I love his use of the term “brutal interrogation”). Irabagon plays with Mostly Other People Do The Killing at Zebulon tonight, and duets with drummer Mike Pride at Zeb on Monday the 20th. Their I Don’t Hear Nothing But The Blues is a sweet sprawl, too.

Dude In The Balcony Preserves History

Top Five Things I Loved About Ornette’s Walk-On

1. The Vamping The Trio Had To Do – Christian later said it was one long stroll.

2. OC’s Gait – Innocent schoolboy body language.

3. The Kissing of the Ring – Ornette is all about manners.

4. The Fact That The Key Didn’t Matter One Whit – Harmolodics, y’all.

5. Tone Dialing: OC sounds bittersweet while SR sounds joyous – a great mix.

Only bummer about the above clip is it misses Rollins’ verbal invitation for Ornette to join them on stage. Bet that shows up soon…

Five Fave: Sonny Rollins, Birthday Boy

UPDATE:  Nice overview of the evening by Howard Mandel.

It’s birthday number 80 for the Colossus. Here’s an interview I did with him a few years ago. Here’s a great piece from the WSJ with the saxophonist being driven around his childhood neighborhood. Here’s Kelvin helping him blow out the candles. Here’s Larry chatting it up with him.  Here’s the spot to buy tickets for his 80th celebration this Friday night in New York.

Here, too, are my five fave pieces by Sir Newk. Not necessarily the five greatest tracks, but the ones I hold dearest.  Hit the “COMMENTS” section and list your five faves.

“We Kiss In A Shadow” – East Broadway Run Down (Impulse!)

“The Bridge” – The Bridge (RCA)

“The Everywhere Calypso” – Sonny Rollins’ Next Album (Milestone)

“Theme From Symphony No 6. Pathetique” – The Freelance Years (Fantasy)

“Freedom Suite” – Freedom Suite (Milestone)

Lost & Found: Sonny Rollins Interview

Was cleaning up some older work, and found this Q&A with Rollins from late 2006.  The site it first appeared on est mort, so here it is again. – Jim Macnie

Some tenor players are cagey, some are bold. Sonny Rollins is both, and has been for a long time. Listen to him motor around the confines of “Come, Gone” on 1957’s immortal Way Out West. His meaty lines are the definition of vivaciousness, keening with smarts and swagger. Ditto for “Nishi,” a track from the newly released Sonny, Please. It’s a jumpin’ blues that finds the saxophonist tearing up all sorts of turf. Long squawks, “Oh Susannah” quotes, clipped phrases that are continuously stacked higher and higher, spiraling bits of melody that chop rhythm and revitalize the music’s thrust – the piece is a smorgasbord of musical gambits that illustrate its creator’s architectural savvy. When Rollins is hitting on all cylinders, wisdom and vigor spill from his horn. Some tenor players are distinctive. Sonny Rollins is often majestic.

The 76-year-old’s jazz icon is in the spotlight because Sonny, Please is one of his best discs in recent years. Lots of critics, even those who fault the saxophonist for occasionally releasing half-baked albums and working with musicians below his skill set, agree on this. Named after a phrase his late wife Lucille used to use when her husband was going off on a verbal tangent, Sonny, Please also finds Rollins the proud owner of his own record label. After years recording for Milestone, he’s created the Doxy imprint. It comes in tandem with the launch of a Web site that offers everything from classic clips to podcast portraits. The depth of his artistry was recently recognized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, which awarded Rollins its prestigious Polar Award. Always a candid interview subject, Rollins was thoughtful and self-effacing during a late December phone chat from his upstate New York home.

The holidays are here. Was Christmas a special time for you as kid?

Sure — even as an adult. I’d get presents for my wife and try to conceal them until Christmas Eve. But she knew all my tricks.

This is your second Christmas without Lucille?

Yeah. It can be overwhelming. We were together a long, long time. But I’m dealing with it. It’s part of life. But its [impact] certainly hasn’t waned. I’m still in the same bed; I think about it. Everything’s the same, except…well…You have certain memories. But it’s part of this existence we call life, and we have to deal with it as best possible. I guess on balance I’m not doing bad.

For a sec I thought you said “on ballads.”

Well, maybe on those, too!

As an artist, have you always felt that revealing emotions we all share was one of the thrills of music-making?

I never was presumptuous enough to assume that what I was doing would ever reach the heights of bringing good emotions to people. I was just sort of involved in learning how to play musical things. I’m still pretty amazed when people tell me how this music has hit them, or describe something they’ve gotten from my playing.


But you do know what they’re talking about, right? If I came up to you and effused about how the tail end of “Someday I’ll Find You” on the new disc really catches the spirit, you’d know what I mean.

Well, I wouldn’t know what you are talking about. I would know what I was trying to convey. But I wouldn’t know it affects other people. I’d be highly gratified, but I wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

Throughout the years you’ve said you like to know the lyrics of Broadway and film tunes you play. Is it to help sort out the emotions?

Yeah, basically. On songs I usually have a good idea about the lyrics in my head, enough to get the intent out there.

Your new label Doxy is named after one of your classic tunes. Do you remember where you were when you wrote “Doxy.”

Actually I think I was institutionalized when I wrote “Doxy.” The gory details…well it was back at a time when I was hooked on drugs, and while I was institutionalized my mind turned to music, and I had an opportunity to play with a band, a sort of Protestant Chapel Band – we played hymns and such. It’s not a pleasant memory. But it’s fruitful in that I was able to overcome those problems. I wrote “Doxy” during that time.

lots more after the jump…

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