Monday Notes

Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, Tenor Madness. Dialogue of giants

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[Monday Notes No. 51] Tenor Madness is the most classic of blues, the piece that beginners play in jam sessions. In this performance we hear an amazing duet between Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.

After the exposition of the theme, John Coltrane immediately starts off very strong (0’17”) and at the end of the first chorus he is already playing dense phrases of sixteenth notes. Rather than with mere notes or melodic ideas, the saxophonist builds his discourse by dosing greater or lesser density, with sudden bursts of energy.

The second solo is by Sonny Rollins (2’12”). His voice is a bit dark, well recognisable compared to Coltrane’s lighter sound, and his start is calm and full of pauses. Unlike Coltrane, Rollins does not play any sixteenth phrases at all, except in the last part of his solo (4’18”):

Sonny Rollins, the conclusion of the solo on Tenor Madness

After this fast phrase one would expect Sonny Rollins to continue with the solo, but the saxophonist stops. Red Garland is surprised and hesitates, then starts his solo with a sixteenth phrase (4’23”) almost as if he wanted to continue what Rollins had left unfinished.

The piece reaches its climax in the duet between the two saxophonists (8’30”). The two tenorists take turns for 12 choruses, playing four measures each.

A truly memorable dialogue, the two are very good at answering, provoking and imitating each other. They duet irresistibly, like two football players passing the ball repeatedly, without ever making a mistake. Two authentic champions of the tenor sax!

Until next Monday!

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