From the Soul – Cheeky bit of Sax

From the Soul – Cheeky bit of Sax

It’s taken me a while to decide upon who I should talk about next, since I have a fair few different sources of influence and inspiration across a multitude of genres I can talk about.  I have decided though to share with you all my experiences from listening to one of the great jazz saxophonists, Sonny Rollins, who is thankfully still with us.  Now before I start, I would like to make it clear that I am by no means an expert regarding Sonny Rollins and I am still finding out more about his playing style as I listen to more of his albums.  Nor is he my primary source of inspiration on the saxophone, since that honour would probably have to go to someone like Coleman Hawkins.  However, I feel that I can at least write about my impressions I currently have regarding ‘Newk’.

Personality of the Player

Whenever I listen to a musician, I always want to hear what I would perceive to be their personality in their playing.  It doesn’t matter to me what instrument they play, what the genre is or even how technically amazing they are, if I can’t hear any individuality in the music I’m somewhat left unaffected.  This is why, for instance, I’m a huge fan of BB King, who I have talked about in a previous blog, and similarly with the aforementioned Coleman Hawkins.  To be honest, when you listen to any great player enough you get to understand their individual qualities; their tone, their phrasing, the way they react with other players.  Sonny Rollins I very much enjoy listening to because he sounds so cheeky, flamboyant even when he plays.  His phrases and gestures are sometimes ever so casually dropped in with little effort, and I find this quite entertaining, especially since he’s not having to resort to huge flurries of notes to impress.

Saxophone Colossus, Newk’s Time, Tenor Madness, etc, etc, etc

Like many players, Sonny Rollins has recorded many, many albums and has been featured just as much on others.  Listening to him in his different stages of his career is fascinating, as with any other player.    Like I said before, I’m not expert on the matter and still looking into these things myself so I won’t attempt a in depth technical description of the music, just what impressions I get from listen.

The Miles Davis album, Bag’s Groove (1957), for instance, is a wonderful album which really emphasises the playfulness of his player that I was talking about earlier.  This is especially apparent on the tracks Oleo and Doxy, both tunes he had penned himself.  The Dizzie Gillespie album Sonny Side Up (1957) features both Rollins as well as Sonny Stitt and their version of the great tune Sunny Side of the Street really just feels like they are enjoying themselves whilst they play, with their solos so effortless.

We now move onto three of my favourite Rollins albums; Saxophone Colossus, Newk’s Time and Tenor Madness.  All three very different and from different years but all very enjoyable to listen to.  Saxophone Colossus (1956) for instance starts with the classic tune St. Thomas, which I have been listening to a lot of recently.  It’s such a simple tune over some jungle drums provided by Max Roach, and the solo is so effortless and casual, especially with it’s beginning of sparse in puts.  The other favourite track of mine from this album is Moritat, which is in actuality the well known tune Mack the Knife.  Instead of jungle drums, this is played very delicately over a simple swing rhythm.  Listening to this compared to other versions of this famous song has really shown me a different approach to playing the tune, since it’s so much more laid back than some versions of the tune I’ve listened to.

Newk’s Time (1957) also has some amazing tracks on, but I’m a huge fan of Asiatic Raes, with it’s contrasting beat and groove make it a very unpredictable tune. The more I’ve listened to it, the more I’ve started to understand the finer details of it, but it relies so much on the band being a well oiled machine working together.  Do go give it a listen to see what I mean, it is a really fun, yet intense piece, a huge contrast from Moritat.  Finally, Tenor Madness (1956) opens with a phenomenal Tenor Saxophone duet between Rollins and the great John Coltrane, with it almost feeling like a Battle of the Saxes.  Both of them bringing their own styles of improvisation to the same tune, it is great to hear two brilliant yet contrasting players go at it together on a recording.


So here’s a brief look into what I’ve been listening to regarding Sonny Rollins.  There is much more I could go into but I’ll save that for another time.  Suffice to say I very much enjoy Sonny’s playing style and am working to incorporate it into my own playing.  Check out his albums if you get the chance, but I’m sure most of you already have!