Saxophone Colossus

November 14, 2009 at 6:28 pm (jazz, Jim D)

If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket to hear the great Sonny Rollins tonight at the Barbican, then you are very privileged. The Rollins gig  is part of the London Jazz Festival – most of which strikes me as meretricious non-jazz  of the type John Fordham enthuses about in the Graun.

Rollins, however, is a true jazz great and  – possibly – in this age of jazz being taught in universities and colleges, the last of the great individualists. There was a time when you only had to hear a bar or two of a record by one of the greats – Louis, Bix, Bechet, Teagarden,  Hawkins, Young,  etc – to know who they were. Their playing carried a signature. Parker, Gillespie, Getz, Monk and  Cannonball Adderley were similarly identifiable. In the “mainstream” world, Ruby Braff and Kenny Davern had instantly recognisable voices on their instruments.

Rollins may be the last of the distinctively individual jazz soloists – a player whose tone and phrasing is as identifiable as a human’s speech. He also has a sense of humour – something else that a lot of present-day jazz musicians noticeably lack:

Way Out West LP OJCLP 337 

At a time when most “modern” tenor players were basing themselves upon Lester Young (nothing wrong with that), Rollins remained a “Hawkins” man, and pinned a signed photo of the Hawk on his bedroom wall. He eventually got to record an album with his hero. For those of us who can’t get to the Barbican tonight, here’s a good (if rather breathless) tribute to the great man:



  1. Bob said,

    Not really related, but possibly of interest:
    The Tragedy and Triumph of Lester Young
    by Ron Tabor

  2. Jim Denham said,

    Of great interest to me, I assure you. A fascinating reassessment of post war Pres. Also emphasises what a sweet, gentle anarchistic character he was. Thanks for the link, Bob.

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