Before & After: Sonny Rollins

Molde Sonny Rollins

At age 81, Sonny Rollins shows no signs of slowing down. He still records and tours internationally, keeping his musical tools sharp and his ears open. Though adulation makes him uncomfortable (of late, he humbly refers to himself as “a musical primitive”), Rollins has received nearly every important accolade in the world of music and the arts, including two Grammys, the Edward MacDowell Medal, Sweden’s Polar Music Prize and the NEA Jazz Masters Award. On March 2 he received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama at the White House. (Kennedy Center Honors, what are you waiting for?) Rollins latest release is his second volume of Road Shows recordings on his Doxy label.

In July of 2010, I caught up with the celebrated saxophonist in Norway at the 50th anniversary of the Molde International Jazz Festival, where he performed an outdoor concert for thousands of dancing, rain-soaked fans. At his hotel, we took a few minutes to enjoy the panoramic view of the fjord, and then sat down to listen.

1. Coleman Hawkins
“Picasso” (from The Jazz Scene, Verve). Hawkins, tenor saxophone. Recorded in 1948.

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Before & After: Jae Sinnett

Drummer, composer, broadcaster and bandleader Jae Sinnett has never been one to wait for the phone to ring. He’s made eight recordings as a leader since 1986, tapping musical friends Chris Potter, Wallace Roney, Steve Wilson, Billy Pierce, Frank Foster and others to join him in his various projects. He’s scored the music for five documentaries, taught at Christopher Newport University and produced a performance/instructional video “Musical Drumming Concepts.” Sinnett is also the radio host of two successful programs, “Sinnett’s In Session” and “The R&B Chronicles” on NPR affiliate WHRV-FM in Norfolk, Virginia.

1. Jo Jones
“Liza” (from Jo Jones: The Everest Years, Empire Musikwerks). Jones, drums; Harry “Sweets” Edison, trumpet; Jimmy Forest, tenor saxophone; Bennie Green, trombone; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Tommy Potter, bass. Originally released 1960.

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Before & After: Billy Cobham

Drummer, composer, producer and bandleader Billy Cobham has played every style of music, from military marches and mainstream jazz to Afro-Cuban and the Grateful Dead. Best known for his jazz-rock innovations through his work with Dreams, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and his own groups, Cobham has spent the past 29 years living in Switzerland, which he values for its peaceful lifestyle and as a convenient jumping off point for world tours. Cobham’s legendarily strong technique is matched by his strong opinions about music, which he was not shy about sharing.

1. Gil Evans

“Las Vegas Tango” (from The Individualism of Gil Evans, Verve). Evans, arranger, piano; Johnny Coles, Bernie Glow, trumpets; Jimmy Cleveland, Tony Studd, trombones; Ray Alonge, French horn; Bill Barber, tuba; Garvin Bushell, Eric Dolphy, Bob Tricarico, Steve Lacy, saxophones; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, bass; Elvin Jones, drums. Recorded in 1964.

Before: Gil. Nobody writes like that, the chords and the phrasing. [as drums enter] That’s Elvin. What’s really funny about this is that Elvin has a way of playing in 3 while the rest of the band is feeling 2. Gil told me he likes to write and play on the edge of chaos but without falling in. He had this freedom and his using Elvin provides a looseness that could not happen with any other player. So Gil would match the music with the musician. I haven’t mentioned the bass player because the bass player is not listening to what’s going on. The bass player’s in his own world. I can feel that he’s reading what’s on the paper, and it’s correct. Now we have an oboe or English horn player in the mix, which means that everything’s being played very softly. That could be Kenny Burrell. This sounds like early to mid-1960s. You can tell by the quality of the recording that a lot of concessions were made, the technology wasn’t there. And if they did two or three takes of that, it was a lot. These guys know exactly what’s going on, they know how Gil likes to phrase. It’s beautiful. Continue reading