Friday, August 27, 2010

Early Rollins

Sounds like a country singer: Early Rollins and the Out House Orchestra!  I spent nine days in Glacier National Park where I saw exactly nine bears, all but two of them on the same day.  None of them expressed any interest in jazz.  

When I got back, a prize was waiting for me: almost all of a Sonny Rollins box set: The Complete Prestige Recordings.  I say almost all, because when you buy a box set at a suspiciously low price, sometimes you get less than what you bargained for.  I got precisely four of seven discs in that set.  The whole thing new costs over seventy bucks, and I got the first four discs for well less than half of that.  

Oh, but jazz babies, here is proof that the Gods of Bop are smiling on yours truly.  The material on the missing discs was released as Work Time, Sonny Rollins Plus 4, Tenor Madness, Sonny Rollins Plays for Bird, and Tour De Force, and Rollin's magnum opus, Saxophone Colossus.  I already had all of those recordings.  By contrast, I had almost nothing on the four discs that I did receive.  He shoots.  He scores.  Nothing but net.  

The whole box contains (I believe) all Rollin's appearances for Prestige  between 1949 and 1956.  That is most of the early Sonny Rollins, and it tells a story.  Rollins was brilliant from the get go.  Slip one of the better pieces from this era onto a later album, fuzz up the more contemporary stuff a bit to allow for advances in technology, and the early recording will fit right in.  This says something about Rollins, but something more important about the organic history of jazz.  As the music evolves, new stuff gets added to the old stuff, but the old stuff isn't discarded.  What is brilliant and timely in 1949 lives on, alongside what is unprecedented in 1962.  I am not saying that Rollins doesn't develop or explore new avenues of improvisation.  He certainly does.  I am saying that, while he learns much, he forgets nothing of value.  

Enough analysis; here is a sample.  It's from a 1953 recording made in New York City.  The band: Julius Watkins (frh) Sonny Rollins (ts) Thelonious Monk (p) Percy Heath (b) Willie Jones (d).  It appears on the album Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins.  It is so damn good it makes the tomatoes ripen in my garden.  Here is about half the number. 
Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins/Friday the Thirteenth/
 Have fun with that. 

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