Long-Lost Tape Inspires Sonny Rollins
Monday, September 17, 2007; 4:30 PM
NEW YORK -- Sonny Rollins was surprised when a long-lost tape of his Carnegie Hall debut was discovered among the Voice of America's huge collection of recordings at the Library of Congress. But after listening to the tape, the tenor saxophonist got inspired to return to Carnegie to mark the 50th anniversary of that historic concert.
On Tuesday night, Rollins will be performing the same three songs _ "Moritat," "Sonnymoon for Two," and "Some Enchanted Evening" _ that the then 27-year-old saxophonist played with bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Kenny Dennis at his first Carnegie concert on Nov. 29, 1957.
"I thought it would be interesting to reprise the material," said the 77-year-old Rollins in a telephone interview from his home in Germantown, N.Y. "Let's hope that the now sounds better than the then. I'm leaving myself open to people that say, `Oh gee, I like the 1957 Rollins better,' but I guess there's no way I can avoid that."
The concert tape had been lost until 2005 when Larry Appelbaum, a jazz specialist at the Library of Congress, discovered a set of tapes in the Voice of America music collection simply labeled "sp. Event 11/29/57 carnegie jazz concert (#1)." Those tapes also included a historic recording of pianist Thelonious Monk's quartet with saxophonist John Coltrane, which became one of 2005's most important jazz releases.
Rollins doesn't remember much about the other performances at that benefit concert that also featured Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker.
"The only thing I do remember is that Ray Charles followed me ... and I was proud of the fact that we were getting a lot of applause and he couldn't get on right away," said Rollins. "It just gave me a little boost that I could keep the great Ray Charles waiting."
In returning to Carnegie, Rollins will be reviving a tradition that continued from the 1970s into the early '90s in which he would present an annual concert at Carnegie Hall (or occasionally other venues) featuring special guests _ old friends like Gillespie and Charles Mingus or young lions like Wynton and Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard. But since 1995, Rollins had made it an annual habit to perform in New York with his band at larger outdoor venues.
On Tuesday, Rollins will be teaming in a trio with 82-year-old drummer Roy Haynes and 35-year-old bassist Christian McBride. The program also included a separate set featuring his working band with trombonist Clifton Anderson, guitarist Bobby Broom, bassist Bob Cranshaw and African percussionist Kimati Dinizulu.
Rollins has known Haynes since their childhood days in Harlem, and they appeared together on the saxophonist's first studio recording, an April 1949 session with singer Babs Gonzales. Rollins hasn't previously played with McBride.
For the Carnegie Hall concert, Rollins will be playing in the challenging piano-less bass and drums trio with no other front-line instrument to ease the load. It's a format he helped pioneer in the late 1950s on such classic albums as "Way Out West" and "Freedom Suite.
"It gives me a little more freedom to put my own thoughts in those musical spaces," he said. "I like just drums and bass ... which is harder to do as I'm aging but I guess everything is harder to do as you're aging."
Rollins' Oleo Productions will be presenting the Carnegie concert marking the 50th anniversary of his debut. He also plans to release a CD in 2008 with the original 1957 trio recording and the upcoming concert on his new Doxy Records label.
"I'm sure I attracted the enmity of a lot of concert promoters ... by doing this," said Rollins. "But after all this is America and if we can do it ourselves and make it a success, why that's how America was made. ... It's a good step I feel for empowerment."
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