Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bop Bone: The Curtis Fuller Sextette’s “Imagination” (Savoy)

October 7, 2015
Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

When it comes to purchasing an essential jazz recording, one often only has to look at the group of musicians listed on that specific record sleeve to know that the music is going to be incredible. That’s one of the great joys of being obsessed with this music; looking for that perfect combination of players and possibly finding a rare gem you’ve never heard.

When I found a vinyl copy of Imagination by The Curtis Fuller Sextette in the bins of a tiny record shop in Greenwich Village while I was a young and ambitious college student, I knew I was about to experience some timeless music. When you take trombone genius Curtis Fuller and place him together with Benny Golson, tenor sax, Thad Jones, trumpet, McCoy Tyner, piano, Jimmy Garrison, bass, and Dave Bailey on drums, how could it be anything less than absolutely burning?

The Curtis Fuller Sextette’s Imagination was recorded for Savoy Records on December, 17, 1959. The album title is the perfect description of Fuller’s trombone style. By this time, Fuller was the most creative and imaginative trombonist to emerge from the hard-bop era.

Curtis Fuller

Curtis Fuller

Fuller picked up where J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, and Jimmy Cleveland left off. Fuller was a prolific player. He made some genre defining albums in the ‘50s and ‘60s with John Coltrane, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Bud Powell, Woody Shaw, and Sonny Clark.

In 1959 Fuller formed his much acclaimed group, The Jazztet. Their debut album on Savoy features Fuller along with Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Charles Persip.

Benny Golson

Fuller began his long and fruitful relationship with tenor saxophonist Benny Golson in 1958 when Golson recorded his first recording as a band leader, The Other Side Of Benny Golson for Riverside. Very few artists of that era played as perfectly together and made such memorable music as Fuller and Golson did.

Imagination is a prime example of that incredible chemistry. The music on this album is primarily hard-bop although it hearkens back to the bebop days, especially on Fuller’s up-tempo original, “Bang Bang.” This not only showcases one of Fuller’s finest solos but it is one of the most stellar and brilliant trombone improvisations ever recorded. Fuller soars. His solo reminds me of the fast, fleet fingered virtuosity of Dizzy Gillespie. This is what Diz would have sounded like if he played the trombone. Benny Golson swings so hard and aggressively. During this period, I place him right up there with John Coltrane, Clifford Jordan, Wayne Shorter and Booker Ervin as one of the most intriguingly original and exciting tenor saxophonists on the scene. Golson’s brief but unforgettable stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers that same year helped to produce the much heralded Moanin‘ album. 

Thad Jones

Thad Jones

And then you have the incomparable and legendary Thad Jones whose lyricism and rhythmic brilliance made any musicians he ever played with cook harder than ever. That’s certainly the case on the modal flavored Fuller original “Kachin,” and the title track, a magically tender ballad written by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. Fuller’s playing on this ballad is a precursor to the unparalleled trombone ballad style of Bill Watrous. Fuller’s sense of melody and harmony are impeccable. McCoy Tyner was already a soulful and explorative soloist and accompanist. This was before Tyner joined Coltrane’s band a year later. This is the most subtle bass playing I’ve ever heard by Jimmy Garrison, who would also join Coltrane’s band a few years later.

“Blues De Funk” is a steaming blues – bop number. Thad Jones’ muted flugelhorn lines are slow, syncopated, and sensuous. Golson sounds like a cross between Lucky Thompson and Gene “Jug” Ammons, and Fuller dances around the precise piano chord comping laid down by Tyner. At one point, Fuller strolls with Jimmy Garrison’s restless bass lines while the rest of the band lays out. The harmonies created on the song’s head by Fuller, Jones, and Golson are in pure bebop form.

Dave Bailey is a very relaxed and subtle drummer, which is perfect for this piece and all five of the compositions on this album.

“Lido Blues” is a mid-tempo ballad which has a big bebop band sound, similar to Tadd Dameron’s charts from the early to mid ‘50s. This is a fat, sweet, and lush sound that blasts the conscious mind out beyond the sun and stars, if you allow it. Tyner solos first, followed by Jones, Golson, and Fuller. This is an inspired performance for those of us who understand, love, and cherish the many inescapable traditions of jazz up to that point in time.

During an era in which many jazz musicians were getting further away from melody, tradition, and lyricism, Curtis Fuller and his “Sextette” remind us that the music can still be daring and disciplined at the same time. Do not go without this piece of magic called Imagination.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

CD Review: Karrin Allyson’s “Many A New Day”

October 6, 2015
Rpger Crane

Rpger Crane

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout

“Peerless Jazz Singing”

Many a New Day is Karrin Allyson’s fourteenth CD, one more in a string of topflight jazz vocal albums. In this era of the singer-songwriter, it is almost obligatory to compose one’s own material. But Allyson seemingly accepts that the gift of composing is a separate skill set from the gift of performing. She leaves the writing to others and has an impeccable ear for a good song. Ever since her impressive debut (I Didn’t Know About You, Concord, 1992) she has successfully pulled material from both the pop and jazz world and it all works well with her voluptuous huskiness and rhythmic sensibility.

Many a New Day is a tribute to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Of course, their collaborations have been recorded before, but Allyson has included a few unjustly overlooked songs, such as the title piece “Many a New Day” giving it a joyful relaxed swing. Other selections from Oklahoma include her opening number “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” which she begins softly and then kicks into a funky New Orleans jazz groove. Her sultry slow, smoky take on “I Cain’t Say No” is memorable as is her galloping rendition of “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” which she dresses with a few modulations. Allyson included the seldom-heard verse (“When I Think of Tom”) to the well-known “Hello Young Lovers,” which is from The King and I. Allyson’s reading of the sensuous “I Have Dreamed” (from the same musical) is alone worth the price of this CD. As she noted in her informative liner notes “this song puts more current images of desire to shame.” She shines delicious light on those images and thankfully included the verse. Although a bit pretentious and formal “Out of My Dreams” is a beautiful song. Allyson emphasizes the beauty but, metaphorically speaking, loosens its cummerbund. Another highlight is her deeply felt rendition of the inexplicably ignored “Something Good,” which is from the movie-version of The Sound of Music. “Here you are, standing there, loving me whether or not you should,  I must have done something good.” Bassist John Patitucci’s beautiful solo on this selection is notable.

Like only the very best of singers (which Allyson certainly is) she can break your heart with a ballad or “swing you into bad health” (as the jazz expression goes). So many newer jazz-influenced singers feel a need to scat, whether or not they have a facility for this vocal art form. Allyson, an expert musician (pianist), has the facility as evidenced on her uptempo judicious scatting on the intro to “Happy Talk,” Bloody Mary’s anthem from South Pacific. Pianist Kenny Barron shines on this cut. Allyson closes this engaging album by accompanying herself on piano with a heart-wrenching solo version of the waltz “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. If you’ve heard these songs before – and it’s likely you have – you have never heard them like this. Allyson and her empathetic musical duo, pianist Kenny Barron and bassist John Patitucci, transform and illuminate each piece making them sound new and urgent

Allyson is a very gifted singer with considerable musicianship and talent, for example it must be noted that she wrote all arrangements for Many a New Day. But emotional honesty and interpretive depth are also key to her art. She believes every note, every word and, thus, so do you, the listener. Many a New Day is a masterful concept album. Speaking of which, how nice to see artists who give thought to their selections, rather than just randomly assembling a dozen nice songs.

Karrin Allyson has always conceived of her recordings in thematic terms, covering such varied concepts as Coltrane ballads, songs in French, songs of Brazil and blues-related pieces. Many a New Day, like each of her CDs, is highly recommended. For more details, visit Allyson’s website at

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To read more reviews and essays by Roger Crane, the Song Scout, on iRoM, click HERE.

Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bebop: Art Farmer’s “Early Art” (Prestige)

September 28, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Romance is deadly. No matter how it’s glamorized in books, poems, songs, plays, or movies, it’s a dangerous state of being. It’s chaos driven by pure impulsivity without measuring the consequences of what waits for you on the other side of it all. For a musician it means exposing your vulnerabilities for all to witness. Which is risky. You’re left wide open with nothing to shield you from those who may want to use your weaknesses against you.

In the midst of the wild machismo-laden bravado that initially made up the jazz world, artists like Lester Young and Miles Davis went to those places fearlessly. They made it look and sound so easy, but it was far from simplistic. Once that box is opened, it’s hard to close it, even when it becomes overbearing.

Art Farmer

Trumpeter Art Farmer too had the skill and courage to plunge into that dark abyss with wild abandon with his sweet, luscious tone and often minimalist approach to phrasing. Farmer could swing with a fast and virtuosic flurry of notes, but he chose those moments carefully, much like Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham. That is the mark of a true master. Always know which aspects of your abilities to expose at precisely the right moments.

Art Farmer recorded two sessions for Prestige Records in 1954; the first took place on January 20th, featuring Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophone, Horace Silver, piano, Percy Heath, bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums. The second session, from November 9th, consists of Farmer joined by his twin brother Addison Farmer on bass, Wynton Kelly, piano, and Herbie Lovelle on drums. The two sessions became the aptly titled Early Art album, Farmer’s second recording as a band leader.

The kind of romance experienced when listening to this album goes much deeper than one pining away for unrequited or lost love, or being in the maddening throes of a passionate courtship or tryst. On up-tempo compositions like “Soft Shoe,” Horace Silver’s “Confab In Tempo” and “Wisteria,” you get the distinct impression that Farmer, Rollins, Silver, Heath, and Clarke are romanticizing the end of the bebop era in its purist form. The harmonic, melodic and rhythmic structure of these pieces are in the same vein as what Bird & Diz, Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Grey and a young Miles Davis were doing in the mid to late ‘40s. “Wisteria” sounds like a direct tribute to Fats Navarro who died less than four years prior to this recording.

By 1954, pure bebop, the way it was done in its earlier years, was on its way out. By the end of that decade, many of the era’s finest practitioners would be forced into a hand clapping, foot tapping “soul-jazz” bag of accessible and easily marketed clichés. Those wonderfully complex and frenetic early chord progressions would soon be replaced by something easier to swallow and more danceable to jazz tourists. The music on this album is a sadly romantic and final bugle call for all of the beauty, virtuosity, socio-political might, and musical rebellion of that era.

Sonny Rollins plays a lot like Bird here. Rollins was already one of the most phenomenal soloists to emerge from the late ‘40s and would just get greater all the time. Sonny picks up on a composition’s theme and adds broad brush strokes that embellish it from every corner. Farmer swings up-tempo, harkening back to the glory days of Minton’s Playhouse and 52nd Street in New York when it was really jumping. Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke were the greatest rhythm section of 1954 and they are playing with all of their might here; dangerously, as if their lives depended on it.

Then you have the other side of romance, which is more universal and more dangerous. “I’ll Take Romance” and “I’ll Walk Alone” are chilling. This is poetry. No words are needed. That frightening vulnerability and cold isolation runs strong throughout these ballads, often too strong at times. One has to be in the proper mind set for ballads this powerful.

Bill Evans1966_2

Farmer’s slow, desperate and breathy phrasing reminds me of Billie Holiday when “Lady Day” became acutely aware of her mortality as it bore down on her like a freight train. Wynton Kelly’s wonderfully twisted harmonic capabilities creates an even darker and menacing landscape on “Autumn Nocturne” and “Alone Together” from the second session. Addison Farmer’s bass lines ride perfectly beneath the surface, as does Herbie Lovelle’s subtle yet colorful drumming. This is the most spine tingling rendition of “alone Together” I can think of.
“Gone With The Wind” is played up-tempo. Farmer swings mercilessly, demonstrating his incredible sense of dynamics. That sweetly elegant yet burning swing of Art Farmer is just unrelenting.

The album concludes with “Pre Amp” which is a precursor to Miles Davis’ “Blues By Five.” The head sounds almost identical. The delicate interplay between Farmer and Kelly is incredible. The band is locked in tight. Farmer and Kelly solo briefly but return to the stated melody line before ending the number abruptly. This sounds like a quick impromptu warm up, but still every note Farmer plays is perfect.

Art Farmer’s Early Art deals with love, longing, romance, and sadness. And you feel every bit of danger and mastery that comes with the ability to express those emotions so openly in that wonderful life giving art form called jazz.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Hard-Bop: Jackie McLean — “Jackie’s Bag” (Blue Note)

September 24, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

When I think of Jackie McLean; the word modern comes to mind. Jackie was always beyond hip. His slightly pitchy alto sax tone, daring compositions, and that unrelenting energy (quite often driven by the blues) made him one of the most original artists to stem from the bebop era.

His earliest recordings with Miles Davis and Charles Mingus show off a young and cocky McLean who sounds as excited as a kid in a candy store to be playing with these giants. But he took risks even then. He was trying to escape the looming shadow of Charlie Parker’s influence, both personally and musically. He was one of the first post-Parker alto players to find his own distinct style during a time when players of all instruments were copying Bird’s every lick.

McLean produced some of the most brilliant and exhilarating albums in the entire history of Blue Note Records.

One of his greatest achievements with Blue Note was Jackie’s Bag; which consists of two separate recording sessions. The first dates from January 18, 1959; it features McLean joined by Donald Byrd, trumpet, Sonny Clark, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. On the second session from September 1, 1960, McLean is accompanied by Tina Brooks, tenor saxophone, Blue Mitchell, trumpet, Kenny Drew, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Art Taylor on drums.

Jackie McLean gestures with horn

Jackie McLean

On “Quadrangle,” “Blues Inn” and “Fidel” from the first session, Mclean and the band sound as if they’re walking a very thin and tight rope between hard-bop and the avant-garde. And it sounds like they could land on either side of that rope at any moment. McLean’s alto lines are bold and swinging. His sense of spacing and creating tensions between each phrase adds a powerful energy that is infectious to all of the other band members. McLean would play slightly behind the beat the way Dexter Gordon did on the tenor sax, or in the style of a truly great blues singer.

At one point, Donald Byrd takes the lead and plays some truly soulful and imaginative trumpet solos. Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones come off more aggressively than usual, but the rhythms they lay down fit the mood of each composition perfectly. Everyone is playing above and beyond their comfort zones and pushing the music to new heights. I could write an entire piece just on Philly Joe’s incredible polyrhythmic drumming on “Fidel” alone. And let’s not forget Sonny Clark; one of the tightest and most inventive piano accompanists of that entire era. On this session, Clark’s accents around Philly Joe Jones’ drumming are syncopated, sparse, and phenomenal on every level.

Jackie McLean

On the second session; the band swings just as hard. Art Taylor’s drumming is more subtle and melodic than that of Philly Joe Jones’. Kenny Drew’s playing is more subdued than what Sonny Clark laid down on the first session but the music is equally as engaging and energetic. Blue Mitchell’s trumpet lines on “Appointment In Ghana” and “A Ballad For Doll” are both thematic and lyrical. Tina Brooks’ tenor work swings harder than life itself. “Isle Of Java,” “Melonae’s Dance,” “Medina” and “Street Dancer” (written by Brooks) feature some of Brooks’ most stellar tenor work of his tragically short career.

McLean’s playing is both humorous and wildly adventurous. The melody lines on these compositions are unique, modern, and at times very funky. Nothing sounds like the music produced on this album.

Jackie McLean: Jackie’s Bag is the perfect example of what made Jackie McLean one of the most important voices in the history of post war jazz. The album also demonstrates why McLean’s modernist approach to composing and improvising are still extremely influential to jazz musicians of today. McLean’s wonderful audaciousness, wit, and soul make this album a musical journey to experience again and again. Do not go without this masterpiece.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

CD Review: Carol Welsman’s “Alone Together”

September 17, 2015
Brian Arsenalt

Brian Arsenalt

by Brian Arsenault

As a cool September breeze pushes the mists of summer down the bay, ushering in a new season, Carol Welsman’s Alone Together — to be released Friday, Sept. 18 — freshens some old songs you know and some you may not have ever heard. And how good is that?

Good enough that Sammy Cahn is featured twice, opening the album with the classic “Day By Day,” with Wallace Roney’s trumpet floating under and around Carol’s vocal, and later with “You Taught My Heart to Sing,” music by McCoy Tyner. Carol would win on great taste if nothing else.

"Alone Together"But there’s a lot else. Throughout Carol sings lead with both her vocal crystal clarity and her interwoven piano work. On another classic, “It Might as Well by Spring,” her stylish singing and piano share a love affair with a song. Balanced by the delicate strength of Jay Azzolina’s guitar solo.

Then here comes a song I didn’t know, “Sand in My Shoes,” a timely ode to Havana’s lure. Yeah, I don’t like the Castros but I’d sure like to see what’s left of Hemingway’s Boat.

The title song has an a cappella intro which makes me wonder how terrific it would be if she sang the whole song that way but, hey, who could object to her piano here with the terrific rhythm section of Rufus Reid on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. They’re good everywhere on the album.

Everything’s good here. Wallace Roney’s trumpet solo on “Disappointed” is even better than his solo on  “My Ship.”

“My Ship” is my favorite cut on the album, if anyone wants to know. I know. I have a weakness for Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin but we all have our prejudices. Carol’s control of Weill’s so yearning self doubting lyrics is right on point. Pinpoint control in all places is one of the most notable qualities of her singing and piano playing throughout the album.

It’s a great strength but as an old merchant I knew once said: “What makes you strong can be your weakness sometimes.” The whole album seems so controlled, so measured, so skillfully managed, that I sometimes wish for a ragged edge, a few moments of abandon, a little feeling of improvisation.

This is essentially a jazz album after all.

Perhaps it’s Carol’s classical background that requires her to measure each note, each chord, each turn of phrase. European jazz often has that feel and just once in a while wouldn’t you like the conductor to leave the stage and just let the guys play?

But her strength is precise playing, sound arrangements, perfect song selection and, in the end, poignant emotion.

“Killing Time” brings an absolutely aching conclusion to the album. If you could hear tears, you would hear them in the spaces between the notes.

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On Sunday night, September 20, Carol Welsman will celebrate the release of Alone Together  with a gala performance and party at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. (323) 466-2210.

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To read more reviews, essays and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bop: Clifford Jordan & John Gilmore “Blowing In From Chicago” (Blue Note)

September 13, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

There’s nothing quite like a gritty Chicago tenor saxophone battle, especially during the post war hard-bop era. By the mid ‘50s, Players like Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons, Von Freeman, and John Neely were blowing at each other with this insatiable hypo-manic bop that would make your head spin.

What these men played could be very sweet and seductive one moment and then turn around and cut you like an axe the next. Clifford Jordan was a part of this school of rough edged Chicago tenor players before moving to New York City in 1957.

Both Ammons and Griffin would record tenor stand-offs with players from outside of Chicago like Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, and Dexter Gordon.

The “Chi-Town” tenor cutting matches were like musical snapshots of the harshness of the city from which they blossomed. With that being said, it’s not surprising that Clifford Jordan’s very first session date as a band leader for Blue Note Records in 1957 — Cliff Jordan & John Gilmore: Blowing In From Chicago — would be a take-no-prisoners duel with another of the city’s fearlessly ambitious tenor-man — the incomparable and illusive John Gilmore.

John Gilmore

John Gilmore

Gilmore’s relentless dedication to Sun Ra’s “subversive” orbit from 1953 through Ra’s death in 1993 made him a mysterious figure to the bop purists and jazz press. However, throughout the ’60s, Gilmore would occasionally venture from Ra’s Arkestra to make some exceptional records with artists like Freddie Hubbard, Paul Bley, McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey, Andrew Hill, and Pete La Roca. Gilmore strongly viewed Sun Ra’s approach to music as being the harmonic continuation of the bebop started by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk.

His first project away from Ra was this tenor blowing session with Clifford Jordan on March 13, 1957, featuring Horace Silver on piano, Curly Russell on bass, and Art Blakey on drums. This resulted in the phenomenal Blowing In From Chicago album.

The first track on the album is “Status Quo” which has the same changes to it as “There Will Never Be Another You.” The harmonies created between Jordan and Gilmore on the song’s head are beautiful in that traditional bebop form. After that, the competition begins and rises to a near boiling point.



When I hear Jordan and Gilmore swapping solos, I envision two poisonous vipers coiled in a bloody fight to the death. That’s how hard burning every tenor line is played on this record. And it gets more aggressive throughout the album. On the Latin-tinged blues number “Bo-Till”, Gilmore’s harmonically complex, angular tenor lines give Jordan a run for his money. There’s also an agility and adventurousness to Gilmore’s style whereas Jordan plays more traditionally, at times sounding like Dexter Gordon but without Gordon’s rich vibrato. Both men are swinging beyond belief here.

“Blue Lights” and “Evil Eye” are sly, mid-tempo minor key blues-bop numbers that allow wider solo space for Jordan, Gilmore, and the entire band. Gilmore takes the first solo. It’s immediately apparent how influential Gilmore was on John Coltrane, especially during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Coltrane even took lessons from Gilmore during this period in New York and was forever transformed. Gilmore plays mostly in the altissimo register of his horn while Jordan plays in the middle. Despite the competitive feel of these pieces, the two men complement each other’s styles beautifully.

The version of Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” (played at twice the tempo of the original) is a true head cutter. That one of a kind Blakey beat is unabashedly hard. Russell and Silver are right there with him, pushing it even harder and adding texture. These men had already performed and recorded many times together up until this time and knew each other’s styles instinctively. Blakey, Silver, and Russell were featured together on the infamous Art Blakey: A Night At Birdland Vol.1 and Vol.2 albums in 1954 on Blue Note with Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson. Their presence here is very similar, which is high praise.

Gilmore plays Jordan’s style back at him when it’s his turn to cook on this Bird classic, which is incredible. This is a more conservative setting for Gilmore, but he demonstrates his diversity and his masterful knowledge of the bebop language. Gilmore even quotes a few of Bird’s alto phrases from “Cool Blues” and “Klaunstance” while Horace Silver quotes Thelonious Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” and “Rhythm-A-Ning.”

Horace Silver’s “Everywhere” and “Let It Stand” have a jubilance to them that reminds me of the tenor matches between Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. The mood is slightly cooler than on the previous tracks but equally as powerful. Jordan and Gilmore are laying back and grooving with love and soul. Blakey’s clean swinging hi-hat rides along with Russell’s steady walking bass lines, keeping everything perfect. Horace Silver’s lively piano solos are beautifully syncopated and harmonically brilliant.

Cliff Jordan & John Gilmore: Blowing In From Chicago is the perfect example of the power and bliss of a true late ‘50s Chicago style tenor saxophone battle. And it is a glimpse into the future direction of the instrument by two masterfully adventurous stylists of that era. It’s hard to find anything that swings as hard as this.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Happy 85th Birthday: Sonny Rollins

September 7, 2015



Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

 By Devon Wendell

Today, Monday September 7th, Sonny Rollins shall turn 85 years young. So I couldn’t help but write about what Sonny means to me. Very few artists have had the impact on my life that Sonny has had, and he’s still doing it. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t grab a Sonny Rollins album from my collection and completely surrender to it.

No two Sonny Rollins albums are remotely alike. Just between the years of 1949-1957, Sonny made records with Babs Gonzales, Bud Powell and Fats Navarro, J.J. Johnson, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Art Farmer, Kenny Dorham, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Oscar Pettiford, Shelly Manne, and Ray Brown. Before Ornette Coleman hit the scene big, Sonny was practicing with him in California around the time he recorded the incredible Way Out West album in 1957.

Sonny Rollins horn Denmark

Sonny played with Monk long before most people knew how brilliant and hip Monk was. He was one of Miles Davis’ first featured tenor saxophonists (and composers) when Miles became a band leader in the early ‘50s. Sonny Rollins has always done things his way. In 1957, he stopped using a piano player (his infamous “piano-less trio” recordings) for a brief period and made some of the most extraordinary music I’ve ever heard.

On November 3, 1957, Sonny used two separate trios in one day for what would become the A Night At The Village Vanguard album on Blue Note. The afternoon trio consisted of Donald Bailey on bass and Pete La Roca on drums. That night, he used Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones. This may be my favorite live album of all time. Both rhythm sections sound completely different. Every single tenor saxophone line on this two album live set is groundbreaking. No one had (or still has) Sonny’s sense of rhythm and he had the harmonic brilliance to lead several trios without a piano and have it make total sense. You don’t feel that anything is missing. Sonny filled that space beautifully.

I could list some of my favorite Sonny Rollins albums all day long: Worktime, Sonny Rollins Vol. 2, Saxophone Colossus, Sonny Rollins Plus 4, The Bridge, Movin’ Out, Freedom Suite, Our Man In Jazz, Way Out West, Newk’s Time, and all editions of his wonderful Road Show series. And that’s just the start of my long list (in no particular order).

Sonny is to the tenor saxophone what Bird is to the alto-sax. He took the articulation and soul of both Coleman Hawkins and Bird and created a style of his own that is still influencing musicians all over the world today.

Sonny Rollins is deserving of all the accolades he’s gotten and much more. He’s still out there making innovative albums and performing shows that last over several hours long. I’ve seen Sonny live many times, and much like his albums, no two performances were alike. Sonny’s still as hip as he was when he penned “Doxy,” “Oleo” and “Airegin” on a small scrap of paper in the corner of Rudy Van Gelder’s studio on June 29th, 1954 for one of the Miles Davis’ most inspirational sessions of his entire career. Actually, Sonny’s even hipper today than he was back then.

Sonny Rollins is an intellectual seeker of the highest order. I’m not sure if anyone can figure out what makes him tick, and thank God for that. The mystery of Sonny is part of the miraculous package, lengthy hiatuses and all.

Happy Birthday Sonny and thank you for your music, mind, and fire that you’ve so freely shared with us. I think I can speak for Don Heckman and the entire staff at The International Review Of Music when I say we love you and feel blessed that you’re still swinging, searching, and inspiring so many artists to greater heights.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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