Written by Fumo Verde
I’ve always liked Sonny Rollins so when I had the chance to Live in ’65 & ’68 I was all over it. As much as I like jazz I always feel that I don’t know enough. Pictures on album covers and bios on the Internet shed some light on the artist and how they act and react to their own tunes, but seeing them live or even on DVD as it is here, truly opens the portal between the musician and their music.
This DVD contains two shows both recorded in Denmark, the first at Tivoli Halls, Copenhagen on October 31, 1965. Rollins appears with Alan Dawson on drums and Denmark’s own Niels-Henning Orsted Pendersen on bass. “There Will Never Be Another You” is the opening number and the camera enters from behind Rollins and Dawson. This jam plays for a while and as I was reading the extensive liner notes, 23 pages worth, I learned there were three microphones set up, one in the center, then one to the left side of the stage and one on the right. Rollins likes to travel when he plays and moves about the stage walking each note to its destination. “St. Thomas” is the second jam, one of my favorites and one of Rollins’ most recognized. To me it has a carefree happy beat to it which lends my mind to daydreams of warm Caribbean seas and white sandy beaches.
I found it interesting to watch as Rollins move about the stage, his face relaxed and eyes closed, as if he was dreaming up each note before he played it. “Olea/Sonny Moon for Two” follows and then flows into “Darn That Dream.” I sat and read the liner notes while listening and if it weren’t for the crowd clapping, I wouldn’t have noticed the change in songs because I was so into the groove. This show finished out with Rollins’ tribute to his idol Lester Young. Rollins says “this song has a simple melody but it’s profound. There is so much room to do whatever you want but still come back to the melody. So it’s the abstract and the normal altogether.” Abstract it is and Rollins plays it beautifully along with Dawson and Pendersen. Did I mention that Sonny likes to move around the stage? During this jam, he actually is behind the drums and bass out of the range of the microphones, still playing; I wish I could hear what was being played.
The second show is recorded in a studio with no audience but there’s a mood lighting to help inspire the now quartet. This session was done at Radio-Television Studio 1, Copenhagen, Denmark in September of 1968. Pendersen is still on bass, and this young man plays with some of the most fluid movements I’ve seen on a stand-up bass. On the piano is the classically trained Kenny Drew and this time on drums is Albert “Tootie” Heath. The lighting makes Rollins’ sax shine and glisten like it was neon sign flashing in the night.
They open with “On Green Dolphin Street” a sweet song by Mr. Davis and Rollins and his quartet play it well as his sax calls out the note giving way to the sound of the piano and bass. “St. Thomas” is played again and this version I felt had a fullness to it because the piano gave it more of a tropical feel. There were only three tracks recorded for this session and the final one was “Four.” Here’s a song with the bebop beat and Rollins blowing out the notes like a freight train; the whole band jumps in making you feel as if you were some jazz joint in Chicago or Kansas City. This jam had me bouncing around the room as I got into the groove again.
For some folks, watching a DVD like this maybe boring, but for me and for Jazz enthusiasts alike DVDs like Sonny Rollins – Live in ‘65 & ‘68 are a real treasure. If I ever get the chance to see Rollins live I would do so, but for now this DVD will be good enough. Anyone who loves jazz and knows the talent of Sonny Rollins will totally dig these sessions.