Friday, February 24, 2012

Sonny Rollins: Discovery!

Last week BBC for the very first time, presented an astonishing Sonny Rollins filmed gig, from 7th July 1974 at Ronnie Scott's. Recently discovered and restored, this show is a great example of the artistry of Rollins in the middle of the 1970s, when his studio output - with many unnecessary overdubs -  didn't show the exuberance of his live gigs, as documented here.

Here Sonny can be seen and heard, accompanied by Rufus Harley on soprano sax, wearing and playing bagpipes (I don't remember any other jazz session with this Scottish instrument), Yoshiaki Masuo on guitar, always loyal Bob Cranshow on bass, and David Lee on drums (though we never see him in the footage).

They play Alfie, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, East Broadway Rundown, Don't Stop the Carnival, A House Is Not a Home (most impressive, in my view) and some other tunes during a gig which lasts more than 50 minutes.

I found the use of bagpipe very likable, though not always in total command of the player. The only recorded album with bagpipe in Rollins's catalog that I remember is The Cutting Edge (Original Jazz Classics, 468) that was recorded in the same month as this London appearance.

It was filmed by 16 mm cameras, and a quarter inch sound tape of the gig exists to help the restoration process.

Depending on the camera, some of the footage is in black and white (mostly close ups of Sonny from the camera positioned near the stage) and some in color (back camera for the long shots of the club). The sound is reasonably good, and there is enough exhilaration in listening to it to ignore some temporary drops of sound, especially on guitar.

Sonny Rollins with Rufus Harley on bagpipes
I couldn't stop thinking that Ronnie's at that time, when it was personally managed by late Ronnie Scott, was less than a tourist attraction and luxury restaurant than what it is now. In the footage Ronnie looks like what should it be: a jazz club.

I wonder how many of these historical treasures, and stunning archival footage are hidden in the basements and attics of people who have forgotten them. Thanks to BBC Arena for this great surprise.

Meanwhile, check out this post of jazz photos by Teenie Harris that along with Sonny Rollins was the best thing to keep my spirit up during the week.


  1. There is also footage existing of Sonny's 1974 concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival - also with Rufus Harley

    1. And do you have a copy of that Montreux set?
      I also found a Copenhagen set of '74 Sonny on Youtube: