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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Colossal Sonny Rollins (mp3s)

The Colossal Sonny Rollins (mp3s)

Sonny Rollins

From "The Colossus," a Profile of Sonny Rollins by Stanley Crouch in the May 9th New Yorker:

When [Sonny] Rollins was a boy, Harlem suffered--as parts of it still do--from terrible poverty. Yet there was in intellectual and artistic renaissance. Ralph Ellison described Harlem in the nineteen-thirties as "an outpost of American optimism" and "our homegrown version of Paris." Rollins recalls the period as a happy time. "I remember us kids playing in the lobbies of the old theatres," he said...

It was Coleman Hawkins, the father of the jazz tenor saxophone, who most impressed him. Around the time the family moved to Sugar Hill, Hawkins's version of "Body and Soul (mp3)" was on jukeboxes across the country. "When I was a kid, even though I didn't really know what it was, you could hear Coleman playing that song all over Harlem," Rollins said. "It was coming out of all these windows like it was sort of a theme song."...

Coleman Hawkins

Though the dictates of show business meant that Negro musicians had to tolerate minstrelsy and all the other commonplace denigrations, most jazz musicians of the era formed an avant-garde of suave, well-spoken men in lovely suits and ties, with their shoes shining and their pomaded hair glittering under the lights, artists ranging in color from bone and beige to brown and black. Their very sophistication was a form of rebellion: these musicians made a liar of every bigot who sought to limit what black people could and could not do, could and could not feel...

In December of 1951, Rollins made a surprisingly mature recording, "Time on My Hands (mp3)." His tone is big and sensual, as delicate as it is forceful. Already, at twenty-one, he had the ability to express as much tenderness as pacing, tone, feeling, and melodic development, "Time on My Hands" is Rollins's first great piece...

One of the great small-group recordings, it [Saxophone Colossus (mp3)] showcased Rollins's improvisational powers. In 1957, he made the equally extroardinary "Way Out West (mp3)," his first recording using only bass and drums...The following year, he recorded his most adventurous composition, "Freedom Suite (mp3)," a twenty-minute trio piece for tenor, bass, and drums...[it] has a stoic quality, a heroic attitude, and a grand lyricism without being stiff or cold or pretentious. It is a timeless achievement.

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