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Saxophone Colossus

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Saxophone Colossus
Studio album by
ReleasedMarch/April 1957[1][2]
RecordedJune 22, 1956
StudioVan Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey
GenreHard bop[3]
ProducerBob Weinstock
Sonny Rollins chronology
Tenor Madness
Saxophone Colossus
Rollins Plays for Bird

Saxophone Colossus is the sixth studio album by American jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Perhaps Rollins's best-known album, it is often considered his breakthrough record.[4] It was recorded monophonically on June 22, 1956, with producer Bob Weinstock and engineer Rudy Van Gelder at the latter's studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. Rollins led a quartet on the album that included pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Max Roach. Rollins was a member of the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet at the time of the recording, and the recording took place four days before his bandmates Brown and Richie Powell died in a car accident on the way to a band engagement in Chicago (Rollins was not travelling in the car carrying Brown and Powell). Roach appeared on several more of Rollins' solo albums, up to the 1958 Freedom Suite album.

Saxophone Colossus was released by Prestige Records to critical success and helped establish Rollins as a prominent jazz artist.[5]

In 2016, Saxophone Colossus was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[6]


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, with this being its most famous recorded version.[citation needed]

The final track, "Blue 7", is a blues piece, over eleven minutes long. Its main, rather disjunct melody was spontaneously composed. The performance is among Rollins's 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.[citation needed]

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.

Release and legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[10]
MusicHound Jazz5/5[12]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz[13]
Record Mirror[14]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[15]
The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide[16]

Independent sources have differed in their reporting of the album's release date. According to The Mojo Collection, it was released in the autumn of 1956,[5] while an August 1957 issue of Billboard magazine listed the album among records released in the period between March 16 and July of that same year.[17] Reviewing in April 1957, Billboard said "Rollins' latest effort should really start musicians buzzing", as "the tenorman is one of the most vigorous, dynamic and inventive of modern jazzmen", and "everytrack is packed with surprises, tho Rollins develops each solo with great architectural logic".[18] Ralph J. Gleason reviewed the album later in June for DownBeat, writing:

Almost as if in answer to the charge that there is a lack of grace and beauty in the work of the New York hard-swingers comes this album in which Rollins displays humor, gentleness, a delicate feeling for beauty in line, and a puckish sense of humor. And all done with the uncompromising swinging that has characterized them all along.[9]

In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Scott Yanow called Saxophone Colossus "arguably his finest all-around set",[7] while German musicologist Peter Niklas Wilson deemed 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".[19] In 2000 it was voted number 405 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.[20] The Penguin Guide to Jazz included the album in its suggested “core collection” of essential recordings, and in addition to its maximum rating of four stars awarded it a “crown”, indicating an album for which the authors felt particular admiration or affection.[13]

Track listing[edit]

Side one[edit]

1."St. Thomas"Sonny Rollins6:49
2."You Don't Know What Love Is"Gene de Paul, Don Raye6:30
3."Strode Rode"Sonny Rollins5:17

Side two[edit]

1."Moritat"Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht10:05
2."Blue 7"Sonny Rollins11:17



  1. ^ "SINGLES & ALBUMS RELEASED - For period March 16 thru July" (PDF). The Billboard. August 19, 1957. pp. 36, 60. Retrieved April 11, 2019 – via americanradiohistory.com.
  2. ^ "Special Merit Jazz Album" (PDF). The Billboard: 29. April 27, 1957. Retrieved April 11, 2019 – via americanradiohistory.com.
  3. ^ Rosenthal, David H. (1993). "Selected Hard Bop Discography". Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955-1965. Oxford University Press. p. 193. ISBN 0195358996.
  4. ^ "Sonny Rollins: 'Saxophone Colossus'". NPR.org.
  5. ^ a b Anon. (2007). "Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus". The Mojo Collection (4th ed.). Canongate Books. p. 13. ISBN 978-1847676436. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  6. ^ "National Recording Registry Picks Are "Over the Rainbow"". Library of Congress. March 29, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Yanow, S. AllMusic Review accessed 7 October 2009
  8. ^ Hall, Tony (28 June 1958). "Reviews". Disc. No. 21. p. 15.
  9. ^ a b Gleason, Ralph J. (June 27, 1957). "Saxophone Colossus". Down Beat. Chicago. Archived from the original on August 7, 2014. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  10. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195313734.
  11. ^ "Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus ★★★★★". Jazzwise. July 22, 2019. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  12. ^ Prince, David (1998). "Sonny Rollins". In Holtje, Steve; Lee, Nancy Ann (eds.). MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Music Guide. New York and Madrid: Schirmer Trade Books. p. 970. ISBN 1578590310.
  13. ^ a b Cook, Richard and Brian Morton (2008), The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th edn.) Penguin, p. 1233.
  14. ^ Jones, Peter; Jopling, Norman (19 February 1966). "Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus" (PDF). Record Mirror. No. 258. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 April 2022. Retrieved 22 August 2022.
  15. ^ Moon, Tom (2004). "Sonny Rollins". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon & Schuster. p. 699. ISBN 0743201698. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  16. ^ Swenson, J., ed. (1985). The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. USA: Random House/Rolling Stone. p. 171. ISBN 0-394-72643-X.
  17. ^ "SINGLES & ALBUMS RELEASED - For period March 16 thru July" (PDF). The Billboard. August 19, 1957. pp. 36, 60. Retrieved April 11, 2019 – via americanradiohistory.com.
  18. ^ "Special Merit Jazz Album" (PDF). The Billboard: 29. April 27, 1957. Retrieved April 11, 2019 – via americanradiohistory.com.
  19. ^ Wilson, Peter Niklas (2001). "Discography". Sonny Rollins: The Definitive Musical Guide. Berkeley Hills Books. p. 124. ISBN 1-893163-06-7.
  20. ^ Colin Larkin (2000). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 152. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.

External links[edit]