September 16, 2007


Sonny Rollins Strips for Action (BEN RATLIFF, 9/16/07, NY Times)

SONNY ROLLINS didn’t just influence other saxophone players. He produced a half-century of close listeners. The long, idiosyncratic tenor saxophone solos that he started developing around 50 years ago — bulging sacks of brilliant thematic improvisation, as well as slangy humor and quotations — became a genuine American rhetoric, delirious and ecstatic; audiences reoriented their imagination, and their sense of patience, around them. But his greatest work from the 1950s and ’60s trained many of them to want what he was later unwilling to give.

Some would like him to play small rooms every once in a while, so they could hear his tone better; or to perform into a standing microphone, without a clip-on microphone on his horn; or with no amplification at all. Some want him to play fewer calypsos. Some want him to banish the electric bass from his stage. Perhaps the most abject hope has been that he simplify things and play again the way he often did in the late ’50s and ’60s, with only a bassist and drummer. These fantasy-league visions have never stopped, and he has never paid them much attention.

So when Mr. Rollins, who turned 77 this month, announced this summer that he would play at Carnegie Hall on Sept. 18, and that for part of the concert he would play in a trio with the bassist Christian McBride and the drummer Roy Haynes, all those who watch jazz closely stepped back and took a deep breath.

What’s so special about Sonny Rollins and trios?

When Mr. Rollins decided not to hire a pianist while making the record “Way Out West” in March 1957, jazz shifted a little bit, if mostly in his direction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 16, 2007 1:09 PM

I love the way his holster's empty on the LP (CD!) cover, like he pulled his horn outta there and he's gonna mow 'em down. . . .

Rollins' sense of humor is probably what kept him alive where so many of his contemporaries died decades ago. Certainly makes his music more listenable than certain other heavyweight tenors.

Posted by: Twn at September 16, 2007 4:24 PM

I long ago became accustomed to the sound of Bob Cranshaw's electric bass pouncing along beneath Sonny's solos, but oh how I wish I could be at Carnegie Hall tonight to hear Sonny play with McBride on acoustic bass and Haynes on drums....

Posted by: Foos at September 17, 2007 9:29 AM