Sonny, Yes

About a month ago, I lamented that Sonny Rollins, the greatest living tenor saxophone player, had decided not to put out a CD of his Carnegie Hall concert of last year with Roy Haynes and Christian McBride. Rollins was dissatisfied with his playing and so he canceled his release-plans.

But now comes redeeming news. Two weeks ago, on March 26, the jazz critic Gary Giddins interviewed Rollins in a packed auditorium at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. In the course of the evening, Giddins revealed that Rollins has been listening to reels and reels of his concert tapes—collected over the past couple decades by a obsessive fan in Connecticut named Carl Smith—and that he has picked what he regards as the best tracks from a dozen or so of those concerts to release on a two-CD set sometime next year.

As every Rollins fan knows, the gap between his live concerts and his studio sessions has always been staggeringly vast, especially since the 1970s but even before then. (To my mind, his most thrilling albums have always been the live ones: A Night at the Village Vanguard, Our Man in Jazz, G-Man.) And as we also know, he is his own harshest critic, often dismayingly so (as with his decision not to release the Carnegie Hall concert). During the CUNY interview, Giddins played an excerpt of one of Rollins’ great solos from an album of the 1950s. The audience applauded. Rollins said, “Well, I’m glad you liked it. I found it excruciating.” Later, Giddins played a much longer tape—one that nobody has heard. It was from a concert in Kansas City in the 1980s, a jaw-dropping stream-of-consciousness solo that would have James Joyce gasping for breath. Rollins was fidgeting throughout, and afterward said, shaking his head, “I can do better than that.”

The point is that if Rollins approves of these tracks (when Giddins asked playfully if he liked them, he replied, “They're passable”), then this is destined to be one of the greatest albums of all time. Not all the selections have been finalized, and probably won’t be till later this year at the earliest. But make a note, and watch for it.

Eric Hancock's picture

Wow; excellent. I'm very excited to hear it.

jim shannon's picture

Just a small Correction: Carl Smith is not from CT, but Maine. He is one of the three founders of the high performance audio cable company called Transparent Audio. Carl has a deep love of Jazz, and has collected (and recorded) many extraordinary tapes of the best live performances of Rollins and as well as quite a few other wonderful jazz performers. Carl has been tirelessly working to get Rollins' best live work available for quite a few years, and has done so without any interest in personal gain----Carl simply (and of course, correctly) feels Rollins' live work is among the most important Jazz treasures of our generation. Carl has done extensive study and cataloging of the performances of Don Pullen, and is also the author of a complete discography of Bud Powell.