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Sonny Rollins Remasters Legendary Album with Clifford Brown

Nick Catalano By

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At 87, saxophone immortal Sonny Rollins remains at work honing his recording legacy. No longer performing upon receiving medical advice, the star is busily attending to an archive which contains recordings he made with virtually every bop and post-Bop virtuoso in jazz. His latest effort is a remastering of Sonny Rollins + 4 a Prestige session recorded on March 22, 1956 with Clifford Brown and Max Roach.

The recording is significant for several reasons. Initially, it contains outings of "Valse Hot" and "Pent-up House"—famous compositions (the latter has lyrics by Stephanie Nakasian) which have been studied and reviewed by critics and jazz students for over a half century. In addition, the session is the last recording of Clifford Brown who died in a car accident a few weeks later.

In November 1956, Rollins had eagerly joined the Clifford Brown-Max Roach group replacing Harold Land and immediately linked up with their tour. Brown and Roach were enjoying some skyrocketing critical and popular success and, with the addition of Rollins, their Emarcy record producers were anxious to get the new personnel into the studio. On January 4th 1956 the quintet recorded Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street—one of the great recordings in jazz. (Details of this chapter in Rollins's career are available in my biography Clifford Brown—The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, Oxford U. Press).

The spring of 1956 is a pivotal time in Rollins's career. On June 22, at Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack N.J. studio he recorded Saxophone Colossus—another album in the pantheon of bop history. It was his sixth recording as a leader and contains his best known composition "St. Thomas.."

Rollins will celebrate his 88th birthday on Sept. 7 and he remains a dedicated student of jazz history. His collection of honorary doctorates and prestigious awards (National Medal of Arts, Edward MacDowell Medal) celebrate his enormous musical achievements. But instead of resting on his laurels, he continues to study jazz music and its legacy. The remastering of his recordings is only one of many projects he is currently undertaking.

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