I didn’t have much exposure to either jazz or classical music until I graduated from high school into the wider world (one town over from mine). Among the group of friends I made in college, it was almost a requirement to own certain jazz LPs, among them Quiet Nights by Miles Davis, Song for my Father by Horace Silver, and My Favorite Things by John Coltrane. They provided the backdrop for the many serious discussions we held in each other’s apartments ’round midnight and well into the early morning.
When I got together with my partner, R.C., who was 14 years older than me and had for a time been a professional jazz musician (keyboards), we merged our music collections. His was much more extensive and diverse than mine, but those three albums were some of the few we both owned copies of.
Classical music made more of an impression on me than the jazz did, and somehow I didn’t let 30 years of living with a jazz musician impact my lack of appreciation for the music. That was his thing, not mine. When he died seven and a half years ago, I picked out a few CDs from his collection, let his son take all that he wanted, and donated the rest to the public library. I did play Kind of Blue by Miles over and over for months, but then I put it away.
I developed my current love of modern jazz pretty much on my own several years ago by borrowing CDs from the library to listen to. After deciding who and what I liked, I built up my own modest jazz collection. I still don’t appreciate Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, or (don’t strike me dead, Lord, I did purchase one of his CDs) Thelonious Monk. I dug deeper into Coltrane, added to the Miles collection, and welcomed back Oscar Peterson, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Gerry Mulligan. I also “discovered,” among others, Art Blakey, Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, and wonder-of-wonders, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Better late than never.
Sonny Rollins is one of the minority of his peers, it seems, who not only hasn’t succumbed to drug and/or alcohol addiction or otherwise died too young, but who is also still creating, composing, and performing. At 82, he just this month performed a 90-minute set at Davies Symphony Hall for the 30th annual San Francisco Jazz Festival. A few years ago, he headlined the New Mexico Jazz Festival, and I was severely disappointed that I wasn’t able to attend. (Wherever he is, I’m sure R.C. was shaking his head over that.)
One of my favorite albums of his is Don’t Stop the Carnival, recorded live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in April 1978. I was actually living there, but in complete oblivion, at the time, so I missed that, too.
Two of his best-known albums are Saxophone Colossus and The Bridge. I happen to like Sonny Side Up with Sonny Stitt and Dizzy Gillespie quite a lot, too.
His signature song is “St. Thomas,” from Saxophone Colossus:
And here’s “The Bridge,” from The Bridge:
One more: the title tune from Tenor Madness, with John Coltrane:
Everyone should have a little Sonny Rollins around for times that are already good (to make them even better) and times that are not so good (to smooth out the bumps or at least make you want to get up and move). Go, Sonny! Long may you run.
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Note: Newk’s Time is the title of an album released in 1958. Rollins got the nickname because he resembled–and was once mistaken for–a major league baseball player named Donald Newcombe, whose nickname was Newk.