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Sonny Rollins (1930 – ) was the focus of a DVD that I
watched recently on the Salt Peanuts label. It
featured archival footage from the early 1960’s,
as well as a couple of songs from the 1973
Laren International Jazz Festival. Sandwiched
in between were two songs featuring
Art Farmer (1928-1999) on flugelhorn.

The first 29 minutes of the disc featured black-and-white
footage of Rollins, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Bob Cranshaw
(1932 – ), and drummer Ben Riley (1933 – ), playing
selections from Rollins then-current album, “The Bridge.”
Hosted by Ralph Gleason, the set was part of his
“Jazz Casual” television series. Gleason (1917-1975) also
interviewed Rollins who discussed the roles of rhythm,
melody and harmony in Jazz performances.

Although the playing was first-rate, the sound was
“sub par” on this disc. The performances were probably
filmed after Rollins returned from his self-imposed
“sabbatical,” between 1959 and 1961. As we now know,
Rollins spent much of that time improving his already
formidable skills on the tenor saxophone.

There is another sequence on this disc featuring
trumpeter Donald Byrd, Jim Hall, drummer Walter Perkins
(1932 – ), and an uncredited bass player. This set had
no introduction or narrative. Nevertheless, Jim Hall’s
use of chords and melodies was again outstanding,
as it was on the earlier Rollins set. Hall (1930 – ) is truly
one of the greats of Jazz guitar. I’ve heard Donald Byrd
(1932 – ) sound better, but I still felt that the footage
was valuable.

The last two songs were from the aforementioned
Laren Jazz Festival. These were filmed in color, and
featured Sonny Rollins playing upbeat music, including
his famous tune, “St. Thomas.” His backup band consisted
of players on electric guitar, bass guitar, piano and drums.
Sadly, the sound quality was dismal, and I had to
“fill in the blanks” while listening, so to speak.

This DVD has a running time of only 46 minutes, and
was apparently assembled inexpensively. But Jazz
aficionados will still find the footage worth watching.