SONNY ROLLINS: SHADOW WALTZ
Sonny Rollins (ts) Oscar Pettiford (b) Max Roach (drs)
WOR Recording Studios, NYC; February 11, 1958
Someday I’ll Find You (4:37) RLP12-258 JLP-86
Shadow Waltz (4:16) - -
Till There Was You (take 1) (4:20) UCCO-9487CD -
Till There Was You (take 3) (4:58) -
Till There Was You (take4) (5:01) - -
Will You Still Be Mine? (2:57) RLP12-258 -
The Freedom Suite (19:29) (Sonny Rollins)
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.
When this material was recorded in February of 1958, Rollins had moved with startling suddenness to a position of pre-eminence among tenor saxophonists, and was recognized as the most sensational new jazz voice in many a year. Not too long after this he left the scene with equal suddenness, for a voluntary two-year “retirement” period, after which he once again burst forth with great impact. Both the departure and the return would have been not only unpredictable but unthinkable for almost any other jazzman you could think of; in the case of Rollins, they could almost be considered as no more than further examples of how difficult it has always been to guess what Sonny will be up to next. It has never been safe to guess: reviewers who dogmatically pigeonholed him, when he first rose to prominence,as a hard-bopper with a raw, harsh sound, then had to listen with some embarrassment as he developed a considerable ability to express a deep, if quite unique, sense of melodic lyricism.
Rollins, both before his departure and after his return, could never be termed an infallible or even performer: that limited form of achievement is never one of the goals of the true innovator and creator. It is of much more consequence to say that Rollins has almost never been guilty of being dull, and that he has – as has been noted – usually been volatile and unpredictable. Thus, while it is probably accurate to consider him as primarily a “blowing” musician, Sonny 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 an instrumental format in which his rhythm support comes from bass and drums only – a setup that has long appealed to him. On one side he is concerned with the adventurous reworking of pop tunes: two waltzes (Someday I’ll Find You and Shadow Waltz) a ballad from Meredith Wilson’s score from “The Music Man;” and one of Matt Dennis’ most melodic and lasting tunes, Will You Still Be Mine? But the heart of the record is surely the work that takes up all of Side 2: The Freedom Suite. Representing something that very possibly no one has ever attempted in precisely this way, it was analyzed and applauded by a great many critics as a jazz work of massive ad lasting significance. At the very least it must e judged a rare listening experience.
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 always 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.
Precisely 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 middle of the Twentieth Century; 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 Little Rock, or Harlem, or the peculiar local election laws and educational policies of Mississippi 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 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.
- ORRIN KEEPNEWS
SONNY ROLLINS is, 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, THEN GAINED RECOGNITION AS THE Number 1 tenorman and led groups of his won until his previously-mentioned two-year sabbatical. He returned in 1961 and quickly reasserted his his importance. MAX ROACH and the late OSCARR PETTIFORD have not needed introductions for many years: let us just say that Max is among the major jazz drummers and Oscar earned himself a permanent position among the jazz immortals before his untimely death in 1960.
ROLLINS can also be heard on Jazzland on -
Sonny’s Time (72; Stereo 971)
NOTE: all 4 titles of RLP12-258 also on JLP-86 “Shadow Waltz” (reissued from RLP12-258)
JAZZLAND RECORDS no address