In the vast panorama of jazz, Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor…
On January 5, 1958, in the hallowed halls of the Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, New Jersey, the spirit of jazz came alive. Sonny Clark and his comrades, with instruments in hand, were about to create a masterpiece that would stand the test of time. The atmosphere was electric, and the anticipation, palpable.
Having just listened to “Cool Struttin'” on my Rega P2 turntable, I find myself enveloped by the stunning sound quality of this Blue Note Records Classic Vinyl Series reissue, pressed on 180-gram vinyl. The quietness of the vinyl allows for the distinct separation of each instrument, truly showcasing the brilliance of the individual musicians.
The ensemble of artists on this album reads like a who’s who of the jazz world. Each musician brings their unique flair and rich history to the session, weaving together a tapestry of sound that is both intricate and mesmerizing.
Sonny Clark, the maestro himself, steers this ship with his exceptional piano playing. Born in Pittsburgh in 1931, he began playing piano at just four years old. Over the years, his style evolved, influenced by legends like Art Tatum, Fats Waller, and Bud Powell. Clark’s innate ability to swing effortlessly and his deep connection to the blues are the pillars upon which this album stands.
Art Farmer, the astute jazz critic, and trumpet player extraordinaire, shared the spotlight with Clark. With a style influenced by, but not solely derivative of, Miles Davis, Farmer brought maturity and a more masculine sound to the session, a testament to his evolution as an artist since his early days in California.
Jackie McLean, the distinctive alto saxophonist, drew inspiration from Charlie Parker but managed to carve out a unique niche for himself. His agonized tone and raw emotion brought an intensity to the session that is hard to ignore. As Art Farmer noted, McLean took an aspect of Bird’s playing and made it his own, creating a sound that was undeniably his.
Paul Chambers, the young bass virtuoso from Detroit, met Sonny Clark in 1954 and made a lasting impression with his consistency, intelligent note selection, and ability to construct captivating lines. His presence in the session provided a solid foundation for the group to build upon.
“Philly” Joe Jones, the inventive drummer, showcased his ability to play all the drums without overshadowing the other musicians. His propensity to listen and adapt to the group’s dynamic made him an invaluable asset to the session. Jones’ unique way of swinging and his constant invention of new patterns inspired the others, resulting in a symbiotic musical relationship.
The mood of the session was one of exploration and self-expression. The musicians, each bringing their unique backgrounds and experiences to the table, created an environment that allowed for a genuine and profound connection. The sound that emerged was soulful, swinging, and deeply rooted in the blues.
Three songs from the session deserve special attention. The title track, “Cool Struttin’,” is a funky-modern take on an old step, a 24-bar blues that captures the essence of someone strutting along with confidence. Sonny’s wife inspired the name, and the track features exceptional interplay between the musicians.
“Blue Minor,” another Clark original, evokes a relaxed, moody atmosphere through its minor key and 16, 8, and 8 structure. Sonny had been waiting for the right group of musicians to record this tune, and it’s evident that the synergy between the players brought his vision to life. Each musician adds their distinct touch, weaving together an intricate and emotive soundscape.
“Sippin’ At Bells,” a Charlie Parker composition, showcases the ensemble’s ability to breathe new life into an existing classic. This 12-bar blues piece, with its advanced chord changes, highlights the group’s impressive musicianship and their deep respect for Bird’s legacy.
Upon its release, “Cool Struttin'” left an indelible mark on the jazz scene. It showcased Sonny Clark’s prowess as a pianist and composer, while also highlighting the incredible talents of the ensemble. This album became a beacon of artistic expression, inspiring countless musicians and listeners alike.
Today, the impact and importance of “Cool Struttin'” continue to resonate. The album stands as a testament to the power of collaboration and the timeless nature of jazz. It serves as a reminder that the soul of jazz music lies in self-expression, and that it is through this self-expression that artists can reach the pinnacle of their craft.
In conclusion, “Cool Struttin'” is a captivating journey through the world of Sonny Clark and his fellow musicians. The album remains a timeless classic, its soulful melodies and masterful performances etched into the annals of jazz history. As we listen to the album today, we are reminded of the powerful emotions that can be conveyed through music, and the enduring nature of the human spirit. So, let us continue to celebrate and embrace the legacy of Sonny Clark’s “Cool Struttin’,” and allow its soulful sounds to transport us to new heights of artistic expression.