“I want to be connecting with the subconscious, if I can call it that, because there are not to many words to describe the real deep inner part of a human being…I want to be at that place where everything is blotted out and where creativity happens, and to get there I practice, you know I’m a prolific practicer, I still practice every day…You have to have the skills, then you want to not think when you’re playing, that’s when you let whatever deep level of creativity, spirituality, I mean, you know these words are so inadequate these days but you want to get to this place where they exist.” – Sonny Rollins
Saxophonist Sonny Rollins is one of the most respected, well-known and well-loved jazz musicians of all time. During a career spanning more than 60 years he has recorded and played with almost everyone you can think of, from Miles Davis to The Rolling Stones. And he’s released hundreds of albums under his own name, and continues to record and perform to this day.
One of my favorite periods of Sonny’s career is the time he spent with guitarist Jim Hall in the early to mid-’60s. This band, which often featured Bob Cranshaw on bass and Ben Riley on drums, was so swinging and so nimble. Hall and Rollins were perfect foils for each other, as both could play inside and out, and both had encyclopedic knowledge of tunes. Rollins is know for “quoting,” which is the practice of playing snippets of other melodies during his solos. He’d throw in everything from “Mary Had A Little Lamb” to Mozart!
Here’s an example of that band in action. This is the tune “Without A Song” that was released on the album “The Bridge.” Released in 1962, this album came after Rollins took a “sabbatical” from performing in public to deal with what he thought were deficiencies in his playing. Can you imagine someone like Rollins, one of the top musicians of his time, walking away for two years to get better? That kind of dedication is mind-blowing to me.
This is a great example of how Rollins would build his solos so logically, with one phrase seemingly the perfect and inevitable conclusion of the last phrase. He’s one of the few musicians who could play analytically and emotionally at the same time and make it sound so natural.
As a bonus, here’s a tune from the famous “A Night At The Village Vanguard” CD from with Wilbur Ware on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Sonny certainly isn’t the only saxophone player to use the trio format without a chordal instrument, but he sure did it as well as anyone!
Jason Parker is a Seattle-based jazz trumpet player, educator and writer. His band, The Jason Parker Quartet, was hailed by Earshot Jazz as “the next generation of Seattle jazz.” Find out more about Jason and his music at jasonparkermusic.com.