SONNY ROLLINS: SONNY’S TIME
Side 1 and Side 1, #1: Sonny Rollins (ts) Sonny Clark (p) (except on #2) Paul chambers or Percy Heath – Side 1, #4 and Sie 2, #1 only) (b) Roy Haynes (drs)
Side 2, #2 and 3: Kenny Dorham Quitet – Kenny Dorham (tp) Sonny Rollins (ts) Hank Jones (p) Oscar Pettiford (b) Max Roach (drs) Betty Glamman (harp – on #2 only)
Funky Hotel Blues (5:52) (Sonny Rollins)
The Last Time I Saw Paris (2:51) (Hammerstein – Kern)
What Is There to Say? (4:46) (Hurburg – Duke)
Cutie (5:44) (Sonny Rollins)
Mangoes (5:24) (Wayne – Libbey)
My Old Flame (5:17) (Coslow – Johnston)
La Villa (6:53) (Kenny Dorham)
Undoubtedly, the single most important jazz event of 1961-62 was the return of Sonny Rollins to an active professional life, after an absence of two years. The retirement itself had been startling, and led to the sort of wild speculation that inevitably attends the rejection, however temporary, of a gift – in this case the gift of adulation – from the public. As Net Hentoff has written, “It is hard enough to survive in the jazz life, and substantial success is achieved by only a few in each generation. Jazz renown, moreover, is often so transitory that those how do achieve recognition and its attendant monetary rewards hold on fiercely to their status as long as they can. The concept of a jazz sabbatical – an established player taking a year or more to rest, reflect, and renew himself – is unknown until the recent precedent set by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.”
At one time during his self-imposed retirement, Rollins, puzzled by the rumors that were circulating about him, said, “Two years isn’t such a long time out of my life; I don’t see why it should be that long out of anybody else’s.” He had, of course, perpetrated the greatest possible publicity stunt, but he could only have done it by being completely unaware of the possible consequences of what he was doing. The only thing more exciting than talent is talent that rejects the public rewards of its fulfillment. But Rollins does not think in those terms. The title to the present collection of his or is a singularly apt one: those two years were Sonny’s time. He spent them on himself; practicing, thinking, contemplating, and any rewards the listening public may receive as a result of that time are only indirect rewards. He was not consciously working out “a new thing”, with which to return and startle those fans who have made the jazz business more subject to built-in obsolescence than the motor factories of Detroit. And upon not done so; to find the foremost tenor saxophonist in jazz playing at least as well as he had played before was, apparently, not enough!
There is another point ot be considered. If a Rollins retires, that is news; many musicians less talented than he have gone without work for periods even longer than two years, and that, sometimes unfortunately, ahs not always been news. Rollins had created something in the years prior to his retirement which made his presence missed. Fashion being what it is, there may be many who are his staunch advocates now who were never fully aware of what that first contribution was. It is the purpose of the present collection to give some indication. The selections have been made with an eye to showing Rollins at work on various kinds of material in different circumstances, and so give a broader hint of his capabilities than most single record sessions would do.
Appropriately, the first selection is a blues. The blues furnish Rollins one of the cornerstones of his style, and he has a uniquely personal feeling for them. The example here, Funky Hotel Blues, is based on one of his favorite methods: the repetition of a one – or two-note motif which then becomes a reference point for the most far-reaching experimentation. Rollins can be angry with the blues, but he is more inclined to be humorous; employing, as he does here, deliberately “corny” quotations which lesser men would reject as not being at all hip. Rollins turns them into statements more personal than most men’s original lines.
The Last Time I Saw Paris is an instance of one of Rollins’ favorite methods: involved with a personal harmonic idea, he sometimes preferred to work without piano (a format that eventually, both before and after his ‘retirement’ periods, become his most accustomed setting). The stop-time chorus shows that, even in the presence of a fine drummer like Roy Haynes, Rollins preferred to be his own entire rhythm section – another meaning of “Sonny’s Time.” Sonny’s time and Sonny’s harmonic sense, as a matter of fact, became so acute that on a few rare occasions he showed himself perfectly capable of doing it all by himself, and there are a few instances of unaccompanied saxophone solos, such as are hinted at by sections of this piece.
One of the more controversial aspects of Rollins’ music has been his ballad style. There are those who have stated flatly that he cannot play ballads. He plays them in a more traditional way than many of his contemporaries, going back to Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster for his models. He chooses them impeccably, as What Is There To Say? Indicated here, and there is a brief example here of another of his favorite, and most successful, methods: the closing cadenza, which often contains his fines and most adventurous work on a piece.
Cutie is Rollins the composer. He is such a remarkable improvisor that his writing talents have often been overlooked. But one remarkable Miles Davis session of several years ago, for instance, contained three Rollins pieces, each of which has become a jazz standard: Airegin, Oleo, and Doxie. His Valse Hot is still the most successful 3/4 jazz piece. And his Freedom Suite, recorded for Riverside, has been the subject of discussions that run far longer than the work itself. Often, as with Cutie, his work possesses a bright, immediate charm, structured more along the lines of Broadway tan jazz lines. His writing is as strong and personal as his playing, and it is unfortunate that recognition of it has been largely confined to his fellow musicians.
Rollins has always been impatient with the self-imposed limitations which jazzmen place on the sources of their material. As a result, he has consistently found songs to play which no one else would have thought of, but which were instantly judged perfect vehicles as soon as one had heard him play them. Such unlikely songs as Wagon Wheels, Toot Toot Tootsie and If You Were the Only Girl in the World have served as the bases for some of his finest improvisations. Here it is Mangoes, an ephemeral Rosemary Clooney hit that would probably now be completely forgotten if Sonny had never played it.
The final two tracks show Rollins the sideman, in Kenny Dorham group that includes Hank Jones, Oscar Pettiford, harpist Betty Glamman, and Sonny’s former employer Max Roach. The Rollins solo on My Old Flame contains the short phrase on which John Coltrane’s piece Like Sonny is based. Dorham’s incredibly swift-paced La Villa (with Miss Glamman out) will remind many of the electrifying nights when he and Rollins were together in the Max Roach Quintet. That group was one of the bet of recent years, and it was numbers like this that provided the best showcase for Sonny’s time: fragmenting the rhythm into myriad fragments over Roach’s relentless pulse, he showed himself to have the finest rhythmic sense of any saxophonist since Parker.
It is safe to say that these varied pieces will be enjoyed more fully and studied more closely since Rollins’ long-awaited return. For now, without doubt, it is Sonny’s time. No one deserves it more.
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)
Re-mastered, 1962, at Plaza Sound Studios
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
PRODUCED BY ORPHEUM PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York, New York 10036