Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

 I miss liner notes. I am up to roughly 1957 in Aidan Levy's Sonny Rollins bio and I'm forming an impression of Rollins that is surprising me. If you are familiar with Rollins at all this is the period that you are probably best aware of, and most people who are into this sort of thing will have a copy of A Night at the Village Vanguard on their shelves. It's a pretty great set, but it's also true that Rollins couldn't keep a band together between the matinee and the evening set, and this seems to have been a consistent pattern. Unlike Miles Davis, who understood that a working band was the way to greatness, Rollins is all about finding cats to play behind his improvisations. This, I think, gets to the heart of a longstanding discussion about jazz: is it composed, is it improvised, or is it both? In the period leading up to 1957 Rollins was playing with Clifford Brown and Max Roach (along with Richie Powell and George Morrow), as well as with Thelonious Monk and on those sides everyone takes solos. After 1957/58 Rollins doesn't record as a sideman really, and seems to only rarely record with peers, and I think there is a drop-off in quality, no matter his wood shedding on the Williamsburg Bridge. People tell me that he was a very Zen cat, and he comes off like that in interviews, but I'm beginning to think that there's a kind of arrogance there, and that the reason that, for example, John Coltrane's sound kept evolving was that Trane, and Miles, and a lot of Rollins' other contemporaries made a point of playing and recording with musicians that would push them. It also seems to me that this may be part of the reason Rollins was unhappy with his recordings (at least according to Eric Nisenson's Open Sky. I've spent a lot of time over the last year listening to Rollins, and I don't regret it. I do regret that I never saw him perform.

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