There are a number of moments on this recording where I had to stop the CD and play it again. And I have, over and over.
A newly discovered live performance with fine acoustics, Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker at Town Hall in 1945, and, Sonny Rollins' great new CD, recorded live at Berklee on September 15, 2001, have been instrumental in my survival this summer. Since I returned from a three week New York excursion in June (video to follow), it's been at least one hundred degrees every day here in Tucson. Of course the discomfort of a brutal summer in the desert pales in comparison with the mayhem and madness of our times. Thank God for this music. It keeps me sane. Always has, always will.
Dizzy Gillespie Charlie Parker, Town Hall, June 22, 1945, just released by Uptown Records, is a truly rare discovery. Most of the live documentation of their collaboration, especially the early days, is marred by poor acoustics so this pristine recording, taken directly from the board at Carnegie Hall's little brother, is especially precious. Joined by Al Haig, Curley Russell and Max Roach, we hear Bebop's creators back when the music was new, and revolutionary.
Like all great Jazz, although this was recorded more than sixty years ago, it sounds new, and fresh. Bird was late to the gig (Don Byas plays on the first track), but his potent alto was clearly on fire that night. Host Symphony Sid, introduces "A Night in Tunisia, then also called "Interlude and Bird's incredible break, just after they state the theme, is as mind boggling as ever. Hearing a young Dizzy Gillespie reminds us of just how great a trumpet player he really was, and what a unique spirit.
An added bonus is the appearance of famed drummer Sid Catlett on two tracks. Also instantly identifiable, especially through his thundercrack rimshots, Catlett swings mightily on "Hot House and "Fifty Second Street Theme.
Thankfully, one of Bebop's young disciples, Theodore Walter Rollins, who played with Monk, and was also a close friend of Mr. Coltrane, is still active, and thriving. His new recording, Without A Song, The 911 Concert, is one of his best in recent memory, capturing the excitement of his live appearances.
Although I disagreed with some of his recent New Yorker profile, Stanley Crouch wrote quite eloquently that "...over and over, decade after decade, from the late seventies through the eighties and nineties, there he is, Sonny Rollins, the saxophone colossus, playing somewhere in the world, some afternoon or some eight o'clock somewhere, pursuing the combination of emotion, memory, thought, and aesthetic design with a command that allows him to achieve spontaneous grandiloquence. With its brass body, its pearl-button keys, its mouthpiece, and its cane reed, the horn becomes the vessel for the epic of Rollins' talent and the undimmed power and lore of his jazz ancestors."
There have been moments of greatness on his Milestone studio recordings, and 1978's Don't Stop the Carnival, captured Sonny live, but the Berklee session is especially noteworthy. This is his first live recording in thirty years that documents a working group. Stephen Scott, who has since left the Rollins' group, gets a chance to stretch out with more than just a few choruses and he utilizes the opportunity most effectively, elicting applause during his solos.
Trombonist Clifton Anderson, has clearly established himself as an important voice on trombone. The man really knows his way around the horn, not an easy task, and he has developed a truly beautiful sound, and fluid approach that is clearly influenced by Sonny.
Sonny's annual NYC appearances are legendary, wherein he plays for a couple of hours and shows us why there are many great players, but only one person who plays the tenor saxophone with the majesty of a Greek God. His command of the tenor is equally evident on this Berkee performance. Even as he approaches 75, his playing remains as vital and inspiring as ever. As always, his humor, and mastery of the horn really stand out. He's totally unique. No one plays like Sonny.
I'm producing Sonny's website, which launches next month, and I'll have more to say about the Saxophone Colossus in a future column. I've known Sonny since 1978, when I first interviewed him for Down Beat. He's a remarkable man, very deep, spiritual, highly intelligent, sensitive and caring, with a great laugh.
At one time, giants walked the streets. Men like Bird and Byas and Dexter and Pres. We know them, and their music, artists whose music will always cut through the clutter and confusion of modern life.
There's a reason we keep going back to the music of people like Bird and Diz, and Sonny Rollins. What they've created, and in the case of Sonny, continue to create, is a remarkably individualistic form of expression that is both universal, and eternal. The depth of their artistry, their ability to transcend the obstacles of their lives and eras, and create something of such magnificence and beauty, it never ceases to amaze and move us.