Jazz Icons: Sonny Rollins features two intimate concerts filmed in the ’60s for Danish television at the pinnacle of one of his most creative periods. Rollins is joined by some of the most legendary sidemen in jazz history, including 19-year-old Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, drum master Alan Dawson and pianist Kenny Drew.
The performances on this DVD feature two incredible versions of his signature tune “St. Thomas,” and reinforce why Sonny Rollins’ incomparable style and genius continue to influence new generations of young jazz musicians.
Liner Notes by Ashley Kahn
Foreword by Joe Goldberg
Afterword by Joe Lovano
Cover photo by Jan Persson
Booklet photos by Jan Persson and Lee Tanner
Total time: 87 minutes
More than fifty years ago, I wrote my first set of liner notes for a Sonny Rollins album called Newk’s Time. Twenty-three at the time, a year and a half out of college and working at Sam Goody’s record store in Manhattan, I had first become aware of Sonny by way of his first 12” LP Work Time, which included a version of the ballad “There Are Such Things,” a then current pop tune that I liked. I had never heard it given such power or emotional depth, let alone used as a basis for improvisation; certainly not with the unaccompanied cadenzas Sonny placed at the opening and close of his performance.
What I thought was a one-shot opportunity turned into a career. For the next 10 years I met and wrote about hundreds of jazz musicians, and I was fortunate to become close with a few of them. One of them was Sonny: we first met after I wrote him while he was taking his famous sabbatical when he was discovered practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge. I wanted to intervew him for my book Jazz Masters Of The ’50s. He was open and honest. He acted with humility and an awareness of his worth. He told me that he would not read whatever it was I wrote. Past articles that analyzed him and his music, he told me, had made him uncomfortably self-conscious. It was like a centipede trying to figure out how it walks.
Fortunately televised performances by artists of Sonny’s stature were far more common in Europe at that time and not only were they broadcast but were preserved as well. As a result we have visual recordings of Sonny live in Copenhagen in both ’65 and ’68, and I have been asked to write a few words for a DVD which is, once again, a Sonny Rollins title. What strikes me most after viewing these exemplary concerts are two things: first, that forty years after its recording, this improvised music has lost none of its power to please. And second, I can’t help but feel that what is today so special by virtue of its preservation, was something that Sonny was then doing nearly every night.
I recall years ago telling Sonny that, as others have noted, good as his recordings were, even his finest albums weren’t up to what I’d heard him play live on some nights. “They’re not supposed to be,” he answered.