SONNY ROLLINS: FREEDOM SUITE
Sonny Rollins (ts) Oscar Pettiford (b) Max Roach (drs) NYC; February, 1958
1. The Freedom Suite (19:29) (Sonny Rollins)
1. Someday I'll Fine You (4:37) (Noel Coward)
2. Will You Still Be Mine? (2:57) (Dennis – Adair)
3. Till There Was You (4:58) (Meredith Wilson)
4. Till There Was You (5:01) (Meredith Wilson) (take 4: reissue only)
5. Shadow Waltz (4:16) (Warren – Dubin)
One of the most exciting characteristics of the growing creative artist is that he seems to be in a constant, dynamic state of flux. His work is marked, above all, by an urgent sense of ferment, motion, change. SONNY ROLLINS is at this time clearly in this position.
It is already quite generally recognized in the jazz world that he is an artist of huge and as yet unbounded importance and potential. But it is far from easy to guess: what Sonny will be up to next. (it isn't even safe to guess: reviewers who first dogmatically pigeonholed him as a hard-bopper with a raw, harsh sound, then had to listen as he developed a considerable ability to express a deep, if quite unique, sense of melodic lyricism.) He is not an infallible or even performer: that limited form of perfection cannot be one of the goals of the innovator and creator. It is of much more consequence to say that he is virtually never dull, and usually unpredictable. For example, while it probably remains accurate to label him a "blowing" musician, Rollins demonstrates on this LP (in the remarkable Freedom Suite) that that term can mean vastly more than just taking a loose string of choruses on a standard tune or routine original.
Sonny is working here with the instrumental format - a trio consisting of himself, bass and drums - that has recently appealed most strongly to him. On one side he is concerned with the adventurous reworking of pop tunes, past and present: two waltzes (Someday I'll Find You and Shadow Waltz) to which he applies his own personal standard of lyricism; a new ballad from Meredith Wilson's score for the Broadway hit, "Music Man;" and one of Matt Dennis' most melodic and most lasting tunes, Will You Still Be Mine. But the heart of the record is unquestionably the work that takes up all of Side 1: The Freedom Suite. Representing something that Sonny has never before attempted and that very possibly no one has ever attempted in precisely this way, it could turn out to be a jazz work of massive and lasting significance. And at the very least it must be judged a rare listening experience and a vivid proof that flux and change and the unexpected are among the most exciting qualities a creative artist has to offer.
The Freedom Suite is Sonny's first venture into extended composition. Just as Rollins' approach to his instrument and, for that matter, to the entire structure of modern jazz has been characterized by departures from accepted procedures and conventions, so is his concept of a long jazz piece a highly personal and unusual one. The suite is built on a very simple musical basis: it consists, fundamentally, of a single melodic figure, which is developed and improvised upon through several different phases. The difference between one of its separate sections and another may be a matter of tempo or of rhythm, or simply of mood. But these differences are actually secondary in importance to an overall feeling of unity of expression: the suite makes up a single complete whole, so that it is very much to the point and very much a part of the writer-performer's intention that it is presented here un-subdivided - as a full, uninterrupted record side, not as a series of separate tracks.
recisely what this unity consists of is none too easy to describe; but having heard the piece several times, and having discussed it with Rollins, I feel that some understanding of its meaning is an important part of listening to it. Not completely essential, perhaps: it is probably possibly to enjoy the suite very much merely as nineteen minutes of fascinating variations on a theme by a superior improviser and two of the finest rhythm men in jazz. But that approach puts undue emphasis on the virtuoso aspects of the performance. True, it is no small matter for a single horn to carry nineteen minutes of music without ever becoming trite or repetitious. But if you stop with that, you are missing a great deal.
For this is, as very few pieces of jazz writing even attempt to be, music about a specific subject. It is, by title, about "freedom," but just as that one word itself means many things, so does its application here have many facets. In most fields of music, a composition that is about something is concerned with a concrete picture, is "program music." But in jazz, which is so much a music of personal expression, "program music" is more fittingly about someone. This suite, then, is 'about' Sonny Rollins: more precisely, it is about freedom as Sonny is equipped to perceive it. He is a creative artist living in New York City in the 1950s; he is a jazz musician who, partly by absorbing elements of Bird and Monk and many others, has evolved his own personal music; he is a Negro. Thus the meaning of freedom to Rollins is compounded of all this and, undoubtedly, much more. In one sense, then, the reference is to the musical freedom of this unusual combination of composition and improvisation; in another it is to physical and moral freedom, to the presence and absence of it in Sonny’s own life and in the way of life of other Americans to whom he feels a relationship. Thus it is not piece about Emmett Till, or Little Rock, or Harlem, or the peculiar local election laws of Georgia or Louisiana, no more than it is about the artistic freedom of jazz. But it is concerned with all such things, as they are observed by this musician and as they react - emotionally and intellectually - upon him.
The suite is, then, in essence a work dedicated to freedom: it is dedication and homage and resentment and impatience and joy - all of which are ways that a man can feel and that this man does feel about something as personal and basic as "freedom" - and all expressed through the medium he best commands. Someone else, having something like this set of feelings, might write an essay or novel or paint a picture, or, being artistically inarticulate, might ride a train to another city or get into a fight without knowing why.. Sonny Rollins, being who he is, writes a musical theme and plays it. And (without ever talking about it in this way) communicates to two fellow musicians so that they support him most sympathetically and, in specific instances, create their own apt solo expressions of it. This, as closely as I can get to it, is what The Freedom Suite is.
SONNY ROLLINS is by now, to use the toastmasters’ cliché, “a man who needs no introduction.” For the record, he was born in New York in September, 1929, has been playing tenor sax since 1946, first came into prominence playing alongside the late Clifford Brown in Max Roach’s quintet in 1955, has most recently been leading his own small groups. It should also be noted, in case anyone hasn’t been listening lately, that Sonny has been the most sensational new jazz force of recent years, and that his impact has quite literally revolutionized jazz tenor playing. MAX ROACH and OSCAR PETTIFORD have not needed introductions for many years: let us just say that Max is the major jazz drummer and Oscar has comparable status among bassists of the past decade, and merely add that here they are up to the standard that their own past performances have set for them.
America is deeply rooted in Negro culture: its colloquialisms, its humor, its music. How ironic that the Negro, who more than any other people can claim America's culture as his own, is being persecuted and repressed, that the Negro, who has exemplified the humanities in his very existence, is being rewarded with inhumanity.
-- SONNY ROLLINS
Rollins is featured on these other Riverside albums –
The Sound of Sonny: SONNY ROLLINS (RLP 12-241)
That’s Him: ABBEY LINCOLN sings, with Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, Max Roach, Wynton Kelly,
Paul Chambers (RLP 12-251)
Jazz Contrasts: KENNY DORHAM, with Sonny Rollins (RLP 12-239)
Brilliant Corners: THELONIOUS MONK, with Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry, Clark Terry (RLP 12-226)
He can also be heard on one selection in –
Blues for Tomorrow: previously unissued versions of the blues, featuring Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins,
Art Blakey (RLP 12-243)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve).
Produced by BILL GRAUER and ORRIN KEEPNEWS; notes by ORRIN KEEPNEWS.
Cover designed by PAUL BACON: cover photograph by PAUL WELLER
Engineer: SAM MORSE (WOR Recording Studios).
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.