Week 2: Listening Study, Sonny Rollins- “Strode Rode”

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Sonny Rollins

photo courtesy of Stephanie Berger

A powerhouse on the saxophone and a pioneer in jazz describes Sonny Rollins, a musician who has played with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Dorham, and many other monumental jazz artists. This acclaimed musician, still playing at the age of 81, has recorded over 65 albums, many of which have been tagged as one of the most influential albums in jazz. Of these musically respected albums, is the famous Saxophone Colossus, with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, and Max Roach on drums. Now, Saxophone Colossus is widely known for  the song “St. Thomas” a calypsos-inspired standard that was named after a Virgin Island. Yet, the Saxophone Colossus delivers more than just this famous tune. After listening to the whole album again, I discovered “Strode Rode”, an up-tempo tune that features a duet between Sonny Rollins and bassist Doug Watkins.

Now, before I share what I learned from this song along with the album as a whole, I wanted to share some history leading up to this album. Sonny Rollins was born in Harlem, New York where he started playing the alto saxophone, later switching to tenor in order to follow after Coleman Hawkins, Rollins musical idol at the time. He was soon captured by the musical revolution called “bebop”. Intrigued by Charlie Parker’s playing, Rollins soon found himself working with Thelonious Monk, a leading pianist known for his dissonant melodies and unique harmonic sound, and Miles Davis, a young trumpeter who strove to experiment with the traditional ideals of jazz. This experience kick-started his career and developed a reputation as a young, fresh saxophonist god.

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Week 1: Listening Study, “A Love Supreme”

A Love Supreme is simply beautiful—a work of art that causes one to examine oneself and dig deeper into ones emotional existence. When I first heard this album two years ago, I was confused by the different sound that Coltrane explores in this four-part orchestration. It was unclear to me how John Coltrane, a hard-bop “bebop” musician that I grew up listening to, was playing tonal music and compositions that focused on the purity of the melody. In A Love Supreme, Coltrane is searching for the core of his sound. He explores the spirituality of his music and is accepting how his talents come from a higher being. In a sense, Coltrane was showing gratitude.

Now, A Love Supreme is one of those albums that involve a broader historical context before truly understanding the intent behind this monumental album.

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