Saturday Night Tunes: Saxophone Colossus

Because I am once again doing this while pressed for time, let’s go with an obvious choice for this week’s selection: Sonny Rollins’s Saxophone Colossus. I assume anybody who would bother clicking on a blog post about a jazz album knows this album, it’s that ubiquitous. But that ubiquity is well-deserved, because there are two tunes on the album that are absolutely brilliant all-time greats, and that’s pretty good for a 5-tune album. The other three tunes are pretty nice as well.

Rollins, seen here getting mad at The Onion for some reason, has always been a bit of an odd guy, what with all the sabbaticals and the hair and so on, but he must be doing something right, because here’s a guy who played with Charlie Parker and is still alive and thriving today at age 84. He’s done a lot of great work over the many years of his career, but if you were picking one definitive Rollins album, it would be hard to argue against Colossus, recorded and released in 1956. Aside from Rollins, it features Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, and the legendary Max Roach on drums. All tunes written by Rollins unless indicated:

The happy calypso “St. Thomas” (named for the tropical island) opens the album and is one of the most “Oh yeah, I like that one” tunes in jazz history:

“You Don’t Know What Love Is,” a ballad by Don Raye and Gene DePaul, is right in Rollins’s comfort zone:

Rollins gives this one a somewhat more somber rendering than this 1962 version by fellow tenor legend John Coltrane:

“Strode Rode” is named for the Strode Hotel in Chicago, where trumpeter Freddie Webster either overdosed on heroin or was poisoned to death in 1947. Watkins gets a chance to shine on this one:

“Moritat” is better known in English as “Mack the Knife,” but Rollins uses part of its German title, “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer.” It comes from the German musical The Three Penny Opera, and is written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill:

“Mack the Knife” was really popularized in America by Louis Armstrong, so maybe you’ve heard this version:

The album closes with “Blue 7,” a truly spectacular piece of jazz and a showcase both for Rollins’s gift for melodic improv and for Roach, who provides one of the classic jazz drum solos ever:


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