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Spotlight on Jazz-Sonny Rollins Saxaphone Collosus

July 12, 2011

There are five tracks on the album, three of which are credited to Rollins. “St. Thomas” is a calypso-inspired piece named after Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The tune is traditional and had already been recorded by Randy Weston in 1955 under the title “Fire Down There”. (In the booklet provided with the boxed set, The Complete Prestige Recordings, Rollins makes it clear that it was the record company that insisted on his taking credit.) In any case, the piece has since become a jazz standard, and this is its most famous recorded version.

“You Don’t Know What Love Is” is a ballad standard by Don Raye and Gene DePaul, given a distinctively bleak treatment by Rollins. “Strode Rode” is an up-tempo hard bop number, notable for its staccato motif and for a brief, high-spirited duet between Rollins and Doug Watkins on bass. The tune is named after the Strode Hotel in Chicago, in tribute to the ill-fated trumpeter Freddie Webster, who died there.

The second side of the original LP consists of two longer cuts, both in B flat. “Moritat” is another standard, a song from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, better known in English as “Mack the Knife”. The album’s liner notes point out that the Brecht–Weill musical was enjoying a surge of popularity at the time of the recording. This version, full of mischief and foreboding, is probably closer to the original intent of its authors than some of the more frivolous covers recorded by other musicians. Rollins concludes the song by restating the melody followed by a short, soaring bit of ornamentation, backed by Watkins’s bowed pedal tones.

Finally, “Blue 7” is a blues, over eleven minutes long. Its main, rather disjunct melody was spontaneously composed.

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