Jazz at 100 Hour 63: Hard Bop Tenor, Part 2 (1959 – 1964)

Sonny Rollins

In this portion of Jazz at 100, we are featuring tenor players and trumpeters who propelled hard bop into the 1960s. In this hour, we will continue with the Tenor Players, Part 2, featuring Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, and Sonny Rollins, three tenor players who have impacted the music over the past six decades.

Jimmy Heath.
Jimmy Heath grew up in Philadelphia in a musical circle that included John Coltrane and his brothers bassist Percy and drummer Albert, known as “Tootie”. In a familiar story, Jimmy Heath did two tours in prison in the 1950s and finally emerged in mid-1959. It didn’t take him long to get reintegrated into the music scene although his junkie days were behind him.
“His parole restrictions cost him the chance to tour with Miles Davis, but he set about resurrecting his own career in the late 1950s. Heath had cut discs as a sideman… but had not recorded an album under his own name until The Thumper, his debut for Riverside on 27 November, 1959. He assembled a sextet for the date, with Nat Adderley on cornet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and [brother] Albert Heath on drums. The date provided a showcase not only for his strong, inventive tenor playing, which seemed entirely undiminished by his time away, but also for the high quality of his writing and arranging. The session featured five of his own compositions, including … the justly celebrated ‘For Minors Only’…”– Kenny Mathieson

For Minors Only. Jimmy Heath Sextet
(Nat Adderley-cor, Curtis Fuller-tb, Jimmy Heath-ts, Wynton Kelly-p, Paul Chambers-b, Albert Heath-d). From The Thumper. 11/27/1959

Gingerbread Boy’ is one of Heath’s most recorded compositions, having been covered by Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones, JJ Johnson and others. “The title ‘Gingerbread Boy’ comes from a chance meeting with Jimmy Oliver, the legendary tenor saxophonist. We were still in Philly when Mona was pregnant with our son Jeffrey. On one summer day, we were walking to the Showboat on Broad Street when we bumped into Jimmy. When he noticed that Mona was pregnant, he said, ‘A little gingerbread boy.’ This was a reference to Jeffrey’s being the product of an interracial relationship. So I wrote a tune and called it ‘Gingerbread Boy.’ Jeffrey was born September 28, 1963.” – Jimmy Heath

Gingerbread Boy. Jimmy Heath Quintet
(Jimmy Heath-ts, Wynton Kelly-p, Kenny Burrell-g, Paul Chambers-b, Albert Heath-d). From On The Trail. Spring 1964

Benny Golson.
“Golson will always be considered, primarily, as a composer and arranger, producing such standards as ‘I Remember Clifford’, ‘Whisper Not’ and ‘Stablemates’. His composition book is one of the most enduring of its kind. His powers as a saxophonist have tended to be overshadowed, although his still-growing discography has reasserted the stature of his own playing. Despite contributing several hard-bop staples, his own playing style originally owed rather more to such swing masters as Hawkins, Don Byas and Lucky Thompson; a big, crusty tone and a fierce momentum sustain his solos, and they can take surprising and exciting turns, even if the unpredictability sometimes leads to a loss of focus… The late-’50s groups already carried the seeds of the celebrated Jazztet. Groovin’ With Golson hasn’t always been the most admired of them but it is a record of extraordinary durability for one that was apparently put together quite casually. Roy Eldridge and Gene Krupa’s ‘Drum Boogie’ is the first obvious throwback of the set, but Golson knows how to work the contours of a good melody and what emerges sounds like naturalized hard bop of a high order.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Drum Boogie. Benny Golson Quintet
(Curtis Fuller-tb, Benny Golson-ts, Ray Bryant-p, Paul Chambers-b, Art Blakey-d). From Groovin’ With Golson. 8/28/1959

The Stroller. Benny Golson Quintet
(Curtis Fuller-tb, Benny Golson-ts, Ray Bryant-p, Paul Chambers-b, Art Blakey-d). From Groovin’ With Golson. 8/28/1959

Sonny Rollins.
“He was not yet thirty in 1959 when the pressure to constantly outdo himself became oppressive, and like Artie Shaw before him, he opted for a long and much publicized furlough—more than two years, during which time he meditated, exercised, and practiced late at night on the Williamsburg Bridge. In 1995, Rollins told David Yaffe, ‘When I went to the bridge, I wanted to learn how to arrange and improve my musicianship. . . . That kind of self-initiative was very important to me.’” – Gary Giddens

He exhibited a more rugged, direct timbre when he returned, with a lucrative RCA contract and [the LP] The Bridge. Rollins sloughed off comparisons to his earlier work and upset critical preconceptions by constantly tinkering with his sound, while sampling in his uniquely jocular (many said sardonic) way the avant-garde and the new Latin wave. Some people were offended by his humor, some by his implacable authority… Of the six controversial albums that emerged from his association with RCA, The Bridge was initially the most widely admired, probably because it was the most conventional—the most like his ’50s LPs. Although the album presents his quartet, with Jim Hall on guitar, Rollins’s solos are usually backed by bass and drums, so there is a connection to the trio albums.” – Gary Giddens

“[From The Bridge, the title tune] is a novel piece with time changes (four/four and six/eight) in the head and improvisations. Rollins’s solo is stunning: bebop turned furious, full of scorching riffs that threaten to but never quite abandon the chord changes.” – Gary Giddins

The Bridge. Sonny Rollins Quartet
(Sonny Rollins-ts, Jim Hall-g, Bob Cranshaw-b, Ben Riley-d). From The Bridge. 2/14/1962

Two months later, Rollins was back in the studio in April and May, but this time with three Latin percussion players and an urge to explore Latin and bossa nova rhythms. “Stop the Carnival,” from the LP What’s New, carries the imprint of his family’s Virgin Islands heritage and became a staple in his live shows for over five decades.

Don’t Stop The Carnival. Sonny Rollins Septet
(Sonny Rollins-ts, Jim Hall-g, Bob Cranshaw-b, Ben Riley-d, Dennis Charles-per, Frank Charles-per, Willie Rodriguez-per). From What’s New. 4/25/1962

Ever restless, Rollins put together a new band with Ornette Coleman’s partner, trumpeter Don Cherry, Coleman’s drummer, Billy Higgins and a gig at the Village Gate, in July. These performances were issued in the LP Our Man in Jazz, which Gary Giddins called “one of the most entertaining benchmarks of the entire free jazz movement.”

“’Dearly Beloved’ is a rousing display of free-ranging wit that, despite the allegiance to Jerome Kern’s tune, is a particularly fine example of the way the four men could improvise as a unit. The tune is stated in a stop-and-go manner by Rollins and Cherry. Rollins milks it in a swinging solo. Cherry introduces a transitional figure, answered by Rollins, and then embarks on his own improvisation. After a bass solo, Rollins restates the tune as a march, which Higgins instantly picks up as the quartet steps into formation. They toss fragments of the tune like a football. Rollins restates the melody and the march, closing with a cadenza that puts the performance back in the lap of Jerome Kern. It’s a number that makes people laugh with pleasure.” – Gary Giddens

Dearly Beloved. Sonny Rollins – Don Cherry Quartet
(Don Cherry-cor, Sonny Rollins-ts, Henry Grimes-b, Billy Higgins-d). From 3 In Jazz. 7/28/1962

Many of Rollins’s fans were dismayed by this musical direction, which, characteristic of this period of his career, turned out to be short-lived. That July, his next studio outing was a set of ballads and standards with Coleman Hawkins. Ever restless.

Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins have each blessed us with their music over a long period of time. All are still performing at the time of the recording of this program, Sonny Rollins at 87, Benny Golson at 88 and Jimmy Heath at 91.

In the next hour of Jazz at 100 we will continue our four-part survey of significant hard bop tenor and trumpet players, featuring trumpeters Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd.

Jimmy Heath. The Thumper. Riverside RLP 12-314
Jimmy Heath. On The Trail. Riverside RLP 486
Benny Golson. Groovin’ With Golson. New Jazz NJLP 8220
Sonny Rollins. The Bridge. RCA Victor LPM 2527
Sonny Rollins. What’s New. RCA Victor LPM 2572
Sonny Rollins. 3 In Jazz. RCA Victor LPM 2725

Giddins, Gary. 1998. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 42. Sonny Rollins (The Muse is Heard)
Heath, Jimmy & McLaren, Joseph. 2010. I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath. Philadelphia. Temple University Press
Mathieson, Kenny. 2002. Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65. Canongate Books.
James Moody / Serge Chaloff / Jimmy Heath
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Jimmy Heath. The Thumper
Benny Golson. Groovin’ with Golson

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