Sonny Rollins on "Just Friends"

Sonny Meets Hawk! (1963) was too far from my expectations for me to appreciate it when I first checked it out a couple years ago. I picked up the record to hear Sonny, rather than Coleman Hawkins, but the Sonny on this record doesn't play the elegant, more easily vocabularized lines found on Saxophone Colossus (1956) or Way Out West (1957). Pat Metheny, in Ben Ratliff's excellent The Jazz Ear, has an interesting take on Sonny's playing on this record:
"He was a young guy at the time," Metheny marveled, listening to Rollins's emphatic, darting lines in "All the Things You Are," harmonically at odds with Hawkins's, on the opening chorus. "That feeling is such a great feeling—like 'I can play anything, and it's all good.' Not to analyze it, but Hawk was kind of like his father. And it's like Sonny's saying, 'yeah, but...'"
I'd also add that Sonny's playing on this record is as far from 'academic'-sounding as can be (not to say that his playing on Saxophone Colossus et al. is 'academic'-sounding at all). I'd imagine that if Sonny played this way before an audition committee, he might have a tough time getting admitted to some conventional post-secondary institutions of jazz learning, but that says more about the state of jazz pedagogy than anything about the sincerity and raw energy in his playing. To my ears, his playing is very pure, melodically speaking, as though Sonny were intentionally trying to break from conventional bebop and hard bop tropes that had already begun to calcify into a set of dated mannerisms by 1963. Here's the solo:


  1. This is an amazing record. I did a blindfold test with a friend of mine asking him to identify the pianist. "He is extremely well known but some of the playing makes me think it is Cecil Taylor - but I know it is not. Herbie Hancock! I was going to say that it has some classic Herbie signatures but this is out there!"

  2. I think Sonny was simply dazzled to be with his idol.
    "Just Friends" was on a Hawkins compilation disk my father played all the time when I was a pre-teen.


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