In 1956, while still a member of the legendary Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, tenor titan Sonny Rollins (b. 1930) cut one of his most definitive albums. Imposingly titled Saxophone Colossus
, it very quickly became a jazz classic and remains today one of a handful of absolutely essential jazz albums. As vast as Rollins's talents proved to be up until this time and in many cases hereafter this one remains special: for Hannan's stark blue cover art, Rollins's pristine and blustery playing with an utterly perfect quartet featuring the impeccable Tommy Flanagan on piano, the steady Doug Watkins on bass, the debut of Rollin's signature piece, "St. Thomas" and an essentially perfect program of originals ("Strode Rode," "Blue 7"), one standard ("You Don't Know What Love Is") and an in-vogue show tune (Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's "Moritat" from Three Penny Opera
). Rollins, the lone survivor among the leaders featured in Prestige's first batch of 50th anniversary issues (as of this writing in 1999), is simply astounding throughout this excellent music. His thoughts seem to cascade effortlessly from his fingers. Even the air he breathes through his horn seems to be a different air than you and I breathe. He's a magical player. And just when you think he could be any of a number of easily-pegged bar honkers, he adds something - a familiar song, a witty line or just a plainly original thought - that sends the music and the listener some place deeper, some place you may or may not ever know again. Truly, Rollins brings life that is deeply felt and wonderfully joyful to the music he senses in equal parts spiritual and intellectual. Best of all, it's easy to enjoy. Saxophone Colossus
makes for essential jazz and remains (nearly half a century later) a premiere example of excellent musicianship.