Sonny Rollins’ Enduring Musical Power: A Vintage 1965 Performance and Beyond

“No one knows why exact­ly Son­ny Rollins, the tenor sax­o­phone colos­sus, hasn’t record­ed a good stu­dio album since the 1960s,” writes New York Review of Books blog­ger Christo­pher Car­roll. “Yet any­one who has seen Rollins per­form on a good night knows that, even at eighty-one, he is still capa­ble of play­ing with the same bril­liance that first made giants like Char­lie Park­er, Miles Davis, and Thelo­nious Monk take an inter­est in him in the 1950s.” “I haven’t heard every note that Rollins has ever record­ed, but I’ve heard lots of them,” writes New York­er film blog­ger Richard Brody, “and if I had to car­ry just one record­ed per­for­mance of his to the here­after, it would be one from Copen­hagen, from 1965.” You’ll find a clip of this very show above, 45 min­utes that might give you a sense of just what Rollins enthu­si­asts like Car­roll and Brody are enthus­ing about.

As Brody describes the full show, “Rollins plays almost unin­ter­rupt­ed­ly for near­ly an hour, pick­ing up heat and whim­sy as he goes along. His full, hearty sound is excep­tion­al­ly sculp­tured, bluff, and pli­able; the notes of the ris­ing phrase in the open­ing num­ber, ‘There Will Nev­er Be Anoth­er You,’ seem to hang in the air like bal­loons. Daw­son sets a brisk, light tem­po, Rollins makes room for [bassist Niels-Hen­ning Ørst­ed] Pedersen’s solo, and then sidles over into the har­mon­ic wilds and lets fly cas­cades of notes and bro­ken, mod­ernistic tones while trad­ing fours with the drum­mer, before end­ing with a suave solo caden­za.” For a more recent show­case of Rollins’ musi­cal pow­ers at work, see also the video just above, a 1992 per­for­mance from his sex­tet in München, Ger­many. Some­times well-respect­ed jazz play­ers spend long stretch­es in the artis­tic wilder­ness — Rollins in par­tic­u­lar hav­ing been “irrepara­bly dam­aged by years spent exper­i­ment­ing with funk, dis­co, and fusion in the sev­en­ties and eight­ies,” in Car­rol­l’s words — but you can nev­er real­ly take your ears off them.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Son­ny Rollins’ New York City Bridge Sab­bat­i­cal Recre­at­ed in 1977 Pio­neer Elec­tron­ics Ad

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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