Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sonny Rollins: Living National Treasure part 2

In keeping with my theme of music for drummers, this post will follow up Sonny Rollins: Living National Treasure by providing three more listening recommendations.

First up is Plays For Bird, one of Sonny's lesser known 1956 masterpieces that he recorded on 5 October 1956, four months after Saxophone Colossus.

Personnel on this album are Sonny on tenor, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Wade Legge on piano, George Morrow on bass and Max Roach on drums. The album was a tribute to Charlie Parker and featured songs with which he was strongly associated. Each track is a study in dynamics, rhythm, melody and harmony, and - as always - Max Roach's drumming approach is masterful. The longest track, a medley clocking in a few seconds short of 27 minutes, covers a wide range of songs: I Remember You/My Melancholy Baby/Old Folks/They Can't Take That Away From Me/Just Friends/My Little Suede Shoes/Star Eyes. The way the musicians seamlessly segue from one to the next is why I included this track and also why I recommend this album:

Next is one of Sonny's first recordings as a leader. It was recorded in 1953, but not released until 1956: Sonny Rollins with The Modern Jazz Quartet

The album cover may seem confusing with a much older Rollins depicted, so I am including the original cover for reference:

What makes this album special is the personnel changes on the various tracks. And as a drummer,being able to compare and contrast the playing of Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey and Roy Haynes on a single album is a treat. The first four tracks is Sonny accompanied by the first edition of the Modern Jazz Quartet: John Lewis on piano, Milt Jackson on vibraphone, Percy Heath on bass Kenny Clarke on drums. Here is Track 2:

Tracks 5 through 12 is Sonny backed by Kenny Drew on piano, Percy Heath on bass and Art Blakey on drums. Track 7 is a good representation of their contribution to the album:

The final track is interesting in that Miles Davis is on piano. Percy Heath is still on bass, with Roy Haynes on drums:

My final recommendation (in this post anyway) is Moving Out

Perhaps I am biased because Thelonious Monk is on one of the tracks, but this 1954 album ranks up there with Saxophone Colossus as far as I am concerned. That, of course, is only a personal opinion.

You have an excellent opportunity to study Percy Heath and Art Blakey interacting on bass and drums, with Elmo Hope on piano completing the rhythm section. And, of course, the interplay between Kenny Dorham's trumpet and Sonny's tenor is the core of the album. On the last track when Monk takes over piano with Tommy Potter on bass and Art Taylor on drums, you can compare rhythm sections backing Sonny and Kenny. Here is the Monk/Potter/Taylor track:

Compare to a track with Hope/Heath/Blakey as the rhythm section (and note Sonny's gorgeous tone on this tune):

I will end with a clip of Rollins in Denmark, 1965, with another national treasure - Alan Dawson - on drums and The Great Dane with the Never-Ending Name, Niels-Henning ├śrsted Pedersen on bass. This performance exemplifies Rollins' piano-less trio format.


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