Strolling with Rollins
Saturday Oct 21st, 2023, 5:00 PM – House of Hard Bop.
It is November 3, 1957. In New York’s Village Vanguard, Rudy van Gelder – from Blue Note Records – sets up his equipment for the very first live recording in the famous jazz club. A historic day. And the result is also historic: A Night at the Village Vanguard, with tenor Sonny Rollins in the leading role. The line-up is small – a trio with bass and drums. No piano .
That’s what you call soloing a horn with only bass and drums. A pianist/guitarist can sideline himself for a few choruses during a wind soloist, but it can also be a principled choice in the line-up: no chord instrument. When strolling – in trio formation – each player gets an extra spotlight on him, so to speak. The blower enjoys a little more freedom. The horizontal/melodic comes to the fore. The harmony shines through in the improvisation of the wind instrument and in the lines of the bass.
Way Out West
In March 1957, Rollins made his first trip to California, as frontman in the Max Roach Quintet. He had been thinking about the idea of a pianoless trio for some time. “I’ve played with many great pianists in my time, but I felt more free and able to hear what I needed to hear when I played without a chordal instrument.” In Los Angeles he bumps into bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne. A plan emerges. All three have commitments elsewhere in the evening, which is why they don’t enter the Contemporary studio until three in the morning. That’s where Way Out West was born. That ‘West’ also influences the choice of repertoire. In I’m An Old Cowhand and Wagon Wheels, both not exactly jazz compositions, we hear the horses running.
A Night at the Village Vanguard
Six months later, Rollins takes the trio concept to the Village Vanguard. During the afternoon session of November 3, Donald Bailey is the bassist and Pete La Roca is the drummer. In the evening they make way for Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones. Rollins had asked Ware and Jones if they wanted to come over that evening and play a piece. So that turned into an entire evening. Only at the end of the evening did they find out that everything had been recorded.
The programme opens with Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia, followed by I’ve Got You Under My Skin – with Bailey and La Roca. Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones are the accompanists for everything that follows: again A Night in Tunisia – fun board game: spot the differences -, Softly as in a Morning Sunrise, Four, Woody ‘N’ You and Old Devil Moon. Obviously plenty of solo space for bassist and drummer.
The record was quickly welcomed by audiences and musicians. And the ‘strolling’ concept grows the jazz world.
Although both albums have many similarities musically, this does not apply to the cover designs. William Claxton signed Way Out West. Rollins came up with the idea himself. He stands alone in a desert landscape, dressed in a cowboy outfit, complete with revolver holster (click). He liked it.
The Village Vanguard cover shows a completely different Rollins: the entire surface is filled with a cut-off, colored portrait photo. With sunglasses (click). Reid Miles designed the design – the photo is by Francis Wolff.
House of Hard Bop – Eric Ineke