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Sonny Rollins & Max Roach
Jazz Goes To College
November 6th 1966 at the University of Reading, UK

The title of the series made me think of academicians making jazz music into some textbook exercise. Not so, just a title, by which producer Terry Henebery could identify his new jazz series for television.

Terry Henebery was a prominent figure in British TV jazz productions, projecting it as an art. In 1966 he had brought into British living rooms such giants as Darnell Howard, Cie Frazier, Horace Silver and now, from Reading University, the reunion of Max Roach and Sonny Rollins and, from the London School of Economics, the Ayler brothers.

Just imagine Max Roach and Sonny Rollins, together again after all those years, poignant memories of the Clifford Brown era, a level of invention rare in these imitative times. Max’s band with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, saxophonist James Spaulding, pianist Ronnie Matthews and bassist Jymie Merritt are up first, producing a fine display of bebop, the music blocking out the cameramen, the scurrying technicians.

Then it’s calypso time – “St. Thomas” calypso time. Mister Rollins, dressed from head to toe in black, his shaven head gleaming in the stage lights, emerges from the shadows of the wings, already singing the song, his tenor saxophone twisting the melody every which way, louder, stronger, time signatures shifting – calypso/two four/four four – stronger and stronger. Ronnie Mathews stops playing.

Unremitting angular shocks, unexpected exits into immaculate new patterns materialising before the foregoing was barely grasped. There’s no pause, no space for announcements. A bridge carries him through to the next thought – a beautiful ballad simply constructed, floating alone with ample respect for that “old time feeling”. Max becomes impatient, forces the tempo, Sonny bouncing straight in, increasing the tempo even further – this time for Max to follow. Follow-the-leader. The excitement builds, transferred from the stage to the excited spectators. A lengthy exercise in harmonics cultivates yet another version of “St. Thomas” – a brief drum solo and then Sonny slides into “Three Little Words”. All these songs – quotations and glimpses – being his natural methodology, his way of singing.

End Notes:

Terry Heneberyhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_625

The Jazz Discography

In the Jazz Discography there was not a recording of this particular quintet. The following link is simply terrific music featuring both Sonny and Max.

Sonny Rollins Quartet
Saxophone ColossusPrestige Records

Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophone; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Max Roach, drums. Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, June 22, 1956 • Program: You Don’t Know What Love Is, , St. Thomas, Strode Rode, Blue 7, Moritat.

All Photographs taken by Bill Smith • A double click makes the photographs larger.

Bill Smith can be contacted at: classicimprov@yahoo.ca

His weekly radio show can be heard at: