Always a restless creative spirit, a constantly self-renewing citizen of the jazz world and one of the music's leading lights, saxophone legend Sonny Rollins has long been ambivalent about, even averse to, the business side of music. However, since forming his own record label, Doxy, in 2005, Rollins has emerged as an inspired-and surprisingly assertive-entrepreneur. Following the 2006 studio recording Sonny, Please that earned a Grammy nomination for Rollins, Doxy is releases an extraordinary double dose of Rollins-in-concert by way of a new live CD compilation entitled Road Shows, vol. 1 and a DVD (In Vienne) of a 2006 European festival performance.
Road Shows is the exciting inaugural release in a planned series of outstanding live Sonny Rollins recordings from the last 30-plus years. The seven tracks on the new CD, culled from the Carl Smith collection and Rollins's own personal soundboard tapes, were recorded in the U.S., Canada, Poland, Japan, France, and Sweden. Featuring the saxophonist with a variety of sidemen-including, on one track, the Christian McBride-Roy Haynes trio that appeared with him at his 50th Anniversary Carnegie Hall concert in 2007-Road Shows captures the Saxophone Colossus in full flight, dazzling audiences around the world.
In the late 1980s, Rollins began to record many of his concerts for archival purposes with possible future release in mind, and also to circumvent bootlegs, which have been a long-standing problem for the artist. "I was much less intimidated by the tape at live concerts" than in the studio, he admits. When the tape was always rolling, "I stopped thinking about it, and it was much easier for me to get a natural performance." From the start the intention was to record all of Sonny's concerts. Due to unforeseen technical problems or permission problems with venues, however, it was not always possible, according to Road Shows producer (and Rollins trombonist) Clifton Anderson. Of the approximately 600 concerts Rollins has performed since the late '80s, Anderson estimates that as many as one-third are in their archive, in whole or in part.
Four tracks from the Rollins archive are included in Road Shows, vol. 1: "More Than You Know" (2006, Toulouse), which Sonny "brought out of retirement," not having played it since the 1950s, when he recorded it with Thelonious Monk; "Tenor Madness" (2000, Tama City, Japan), whose last appearance on a Rollins disc was the live G-Man in 1987; "Nice Lady" (2007, Victoria, BC), the first recording of a new Rollins calypso; and "Some Enchanted Evening" (2007, New York City), from his 50th anniversary Carnegie Hall concert with Christian McBride and Roy Haynes. Road Shows' remaining three tracks were selected from Carl Smith's collection-"Blossom" (1980, Umea, Sweden), a fascinating, little-known Rollins original that "came and went pretty fast in the repertoire," says Rollins; "Easy Living" (1980, Warsaw), from Sonny's first trip behind the Iron Curtain ("the people were starved for music"); and "Best Wishes" (1986, Tokyo), previously recorded on his 1982 Reel Life album.
For future Road Shows compilations, Anderson and Rollins will have not only their own archives and Carl Smith's to draw from. "People have also submitted things to us," says Anderson, "most recently a tape from Keystone Korner in the mid-1970s and a cassette from the Bottom Line. The bands are different, the material's different; the one common denominator is Sonny killin' through all of it."
Road Shows, Vol. 1
More Than You Know
Some Enchanted Evening