Monday, January 28, 2008

Sonny's Lists

Browsing through today, I came upon the "Amazon Earworm" section which features lists created by celebrity musicians/performers, of music, books, or movies they recommend.

I was delighted to find lists by one of my idols, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins who is now 77 years old and still performing with great intensity and clarity - witness the show I caught last year.
I had an inkling of some of his choices, having read many interviews, including an exceptional NPR radio interview he gave Teri Gross back in the early 90's - but there were some surprises. Here are his lists of recommended music and recommended films, with some brief commentary by him.

Sonny Rollins' List of Music You Should Hear

1. "The Man I Love" from Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Coleman Hawkins by Coleman Hawkins
The Great Hawk, and a masterpiece.

2. "Afternoon of a Basie-ite" from The Complete Lester Young on Keynote by Lester Young
This is Lester Young and all he represents.

3. "Cotton Tail" from The Best of Ken Burns Jazz by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
The Duke Ellington Orchestra in one of its many unforgettable recordings and, of course, the mighty Ben Webster up front.

4. "I Can't Get Started" from I Can't Get Started by Bunny Berigan
There’s something about this record that gets to me. I can’t explain it beyond that.

5. "Unforgettable" from The Very Best Of Nat King Cole by Nat King Cole
My favorite singer and a good enough song.

6. "Lover Man" from Ultimate Billie Holliday: Lover Man by Billie Holiday
I’ve been told that that is Budd Johnson playing the tenor solo. A great arrangement to cuddle the lady.

7. "Billie's Bounce" from Charlie Parker: A Studio Chronicle 1940-1948 by Charlie Parker
Here is the Bird out of Kansas City, and listen to the genius of young Miles.

8. "Ballad for Americans" from Ballad for Americans by Paul Robeson
The great voice, the great man, and again, the great message of this song.

Sonny's List of Movies you Should Watch:

1. Casablanca
Everybody’s favorite for the usual reasons, but Dooley Wilson’s band sealed it for me.

2. Cabin in the Sky
Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters. . . You get the idea.

3. Swing Time
I saw it when I was 6, and Jerome Kern’s music stayed with me.

4. The Third Man (50th Anniversary Edition) - Criterion Collection
Austria after the war. Intriguing plot, and that great zither music.

5. Foreign Affair (1948)
Berlin just after the war – a great cast, a great story, and Billy Wilder.

6. Laura (Fox Film Noir)
Who can resist Gene Tierney as Laura? The song isn’t bad, either.

Like many great improvisers, Sonny plays a fair bit of standards from the "American Song Book" - but he is also notable for playing many tunes from the the standard repertoire that are infrequently played by the majority of jazz musicians.
Things like "Count Your Blessings", "The Most Beautiful Girl In the World", "To A Wild Rose", "I'm An Old Cowhand", "The Last Time I Saw Paris", and "How Are Things In Glocca Morra" come to mind.

It amuses me that many jazz musicians, and fans, seem to be in denial about Rollins' love of those standards made popular in the great movie musicals of the 30's and 40's. I heard one musician cohort claim that "Sonny is just kidding us when he plays those tunes. He isn't serious." I also recall one young musician writing to Sonny's website, complimenting him on "destroying" such and such a tune.
Get a clue people, Sonny loves this stuff! I recall Sonny telling an interviewer that he had amassed a fair collection of bygone musicals and was currently in awe of the dancing performance of Joan Leslie opposite Fred Astaire in "The Sky's the Limit". I always felt that Rollins' best improvised lines danced and continued to dance in the head and steps down the street long after the initial hearing.

The mind of the greater creative musician is not confined to the narrow box of "hipness" that many lesser mortals find comforting.
End of sermon.


Michael Leddy said...

Have you seen Rollins recently, Tom? His band is terrific. His latest CD has Drigo's "Serenade" (from 1900!).

Trombonology said...

Well, I mentioned to you, a while back, that I have and love the Alfie soundtrack but that very nearly constitutes the extent of my acquaintance with Rollins' work. Thanks to your post, I now am more intrigued than ever about what came before that '66 date. The man has superb taste – in both music and films. I was glad to find that he had given a nod to four of my favorites, Pres' "Afternoon of a Basie-ite, Duke's "Cotton Tail," Bird's "Billie's Bounce" and Hawk's "The Man I Love." In making these recommendations, Rollins consequently recommends himself!

I'm delighted to learn, too, that, as well as the universally-recognized standards Sonny plays some of the things that haven't been beaten to death. "I'm an Old Cowhand"? Amazing! Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, who, as you doubtless know, can be a raving, honking madman, cut possibly my favorite version of that tune.

A most uplifting sermon, Rev.

lefty o'doul said...

"I'm a Raving, Honking, Old Madman-Cowhand,
from the Rio Grande...."
There's always time to change the lyric :)

Actually, my Dad used to sing that to me in the car on very long trips...
such a great tune!
(and i know you were once a wee cowhand...)

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Michael - I much enjoyed his band when i saw him a year or so back. I love the blend of trombone with tenor and Clifford Anderson was the perfect match for Sonny's sound. Dug the drummer AND percussionist treatment as well. Sonny was on fire...

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Michael - Since you mentioned Serenade.....
There is a great clip (once you cut thru the narrative hype) on youtube of Sonny playing Serenade and Someday i'll Find you and himself discussing the influence of old radio (from whence those two) and movies.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Can't resist adding this one for your listening pleasure.
Sonny playing "My One and Only Love" to roam and ruminate.
What a sound!

persephone2u said...

"The mind of the greater creative musician is not confined to the narrow box of "hipness" that many lesser mortals find comforting."

Truer words have never been spoken! I must seek out the Amazon earworm section. Seeing as how I practically live at I'm ashamed I haven't noticed this section before. Sonny has excellent taste I might add!

Michael Leddy said...

Those are great clips, Tom. I saw Rollins in late 2006 -- "Serenade" was the highlight of the night. Some years earlier, he gave the most exciting performance I have ever heard, from anyone, here in my little "east-central Illinois" college town.

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