Saxophone Colossus

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Saxophone Colossus
Saxophone Colossus - Sonny Rollins.jpg
Studio album by Sonny Rollins
Released April 1957[1]
Recorded 22 June 1956
Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack
Genre Hard bop
Length 39:58
Label Prestige
PRLP 7079
Producer Bob Weinstock
Sonny Rollins chronology
Tenor Madness
Saxophone Colossus
Rollins Plays for Bird

Saxophone Colossus is one of Sonny Rollins' most acclaimed albums. Recorded in June 1956 and released in April 1957, it has been awarded a rare Crown by The Penguin Guide to Jazz, and is widely considered the masterpiece of his mid-1950s series of recordings for Prestige Records and one of the greatest albums ever issued on that label.


There are five tracks on the album, three of which are credited to Rollins. "St. Thomas" is a calypso-inspired piece named after Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The tune is traditional and had already been recorded by Randy Weston in 1955 under the title "Fire Down There". (In the booklet provided with the boxed set, The Complete Prestige Recordings, Rollins makes it clear that it was the record company that insisted on his taking credit.) In any case, the piece has since become a jazz standard, and this is its most famous recorded version.

"You Don't Know What Love Is" is a ballad standard by Don Raye and Gene de Paul, given a distinctively bleak treatment by Rollins. "Strode Rode" is an up-tempo hard bop number, notable for its staccato motif and for a brief, high-spirited duet between Rollins and Doug Watkins on bass. The tune is named after the Strode Hotel in Chicago, in tribute to the ill-fated trumpeter Freddie Webster, who died there.

The second side of the original LP consists of two longer cuts, both in B flat. "Moritat" is another standard, a song from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, better known in English as "Mack the Knife" (the original, full title of the song in German was "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer"). The album's liner notes point out that the Brecht–Weill musical was enjoying a surge of popularity at the time of the recording.

Finally, "Blue 7" is a blues, over eleven minutes long. Its main, rather disjunct melody was spontaneously composed. The performance is among Rollins' most acclaimed, and is the subject of an article by Gunther Schuller entitled "Sonny Rollins and the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation". Schuller praises Rollins on "Blue 7" for the use of motivic development exploring and developing melodic themes throughout his three solos, so that the piece is unified, rather than being composed of unrelated ideas. Rollins also improvises using ideas and variations from the melody, which is based on the tritone interval, and strongly suggests bitonality (the melody by itself is harmonically ambiguous, simultaneously suggesting the keys of Bb and E). Also notable is Max Roach's solo, which uses a triplet rhythm figure later imitated by Rollins, again helping to give the piece a coherent feel.

The original 22 June 1956 session was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder. A CD version, mastered by Steve Hoffman, was released in May 1995 by DCC Compact Classics; no additional performances were included. Another remastered version, this time by Van Gelder, was released on 21 March 2006. The album's title was devised by Prestige Records' in-house publicity director Robert "Bob" Altshuler.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[2]
The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide 5/5 stars[3]

The Allmusic review by Scott Yanow calls the album "arguably his finest all-around set".[2] Author and musician Peter Niklas Wilson called it "another milestone of the Rollins discography, a recording repeatedly cited as Rollins' chef d'oeuvre, and one of the classic jazz albums of all time".[4]

Track listing[edit]

Side one[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "St. Thomas"   Sonny Rollins 6:49
2. "You Don't Know What Love Is"   Gene de Paul, Don Raye 6:30
3. "Strode Rode"   Sonny Rollins 5:17

Side two[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Moritat"   Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht 10:05
2. "Blue 7"   Sonny Rollins 11:17



  1. ^ "Billboard [27 April 1957]". Retrieved 13 December 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Yanow, S. Allmusic Review accessed 7 October 2009
  3. ^ Swenson, J. (Editor) (1985). The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. USA: Random House/Rolling Stone. p. 171. ISBN 0-394-72643-X. 
  4. ^ Wilson, Peter Niklas (2001). "Discography". Sonny Rollins: The Definitive Musical Guide. Berkeley Hills Books. p. 124. ISBN 1-893163-06-7.