Saxophone Colossus

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

Saxophone Colossus is a studio album by American jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins. It was recorded on June 22, 1956, with producers Bob Weinstock and 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. Saxophone Colossus was released later that year by Prestige Records to critical success and helped establish Rollins as a prominent jazz artist.[2]


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.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[3]
Down Beat 5/5 stars[4]
MusicHound 5/5[5]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz 5/5 stars[6]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[7]
The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide 5/5 stars[8]

In a contemporary review for Down Beat, Ralph J. Gleason wrote:

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.[4]

In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Scott Yanow called Saxophone Colossus "arguably his finest all-around set",[3] 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".[9]

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. ^ Rosenthal, David H. (1993). "Selected Hard Bop Discography". Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955-1965. Oxford University Press. p. 193. ISBN 0195358996. 
  2. ^ Anon. (2007). "Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus". The Mojo Collection (4th ed.). Canongate Books. p. 13. ISBN 184767643X. Retrieved November 15, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Yanow, S. Allmusic Review accessed 7 October 2009
  4. ^ a b Gleason, Ralph J. (June 27, 1957). "Saxophone Colossus". Down Beat (Chicago). Retrieved November 15, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Saxophone Colossus". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved November 15, 2015. 
  6. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (1992). The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette. Penguin Books. p. 927. ISBN 9780140153644. 
  7. ^ Moon, Tom. "Sonny Rollins". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian. The Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon and Schuster. p. 699. ISBN 0743201698. Retrieved November 15, 2015. 
  8. ^ Swenson, J. (Editor) (1985). The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. USA: Random House/Rolling Stone. p. 171. ISBN 0-394-72643-X. 
  9. ^ Wilson, Peter Niklas (2001). "Discography". Sonny Rollins: The Definitive Musical Guide. Berkeley Hills Books. p. 124. ISBN 1-893163-06-7. 

External links[edit]