Sonny Rollins “Saxophone Colossus” (1956)

Track Selection: “You Don’t Know What Love Is” >


Sonny Rollins (ts) Tommy Flanagan (p) Doug Watkins (b) Max Roach (d) Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, June 22, 1956


Though there are five excellent tracks to choose from, the “boudoir sax” of the selection” You Dont Know What Love Is” makes a special perfect late night partner to that single malt, so turn down the lights down low – oh, you are in the office, damn, no matter…use your imagination.

Lauded as Sonny’s finest work and awarded one of the coveted Penguin Jazz Core Collection crowns year after year, no jazz collection is complete without a copy of  “Saxophone Colossus”. This and “Worktime”. Sonny was aged only 26 when this was recorded, but he had already achieved legendary status alongside Coltrane and Miles Davis as one of the giants, hence the self-adulation of the title “Colossus”.

Unlike most of his fellow musicians from that time, Sonny is still upright. The speech at his recent White House award of Medal for the Arts was read by a somewhat lesser saxophonist, Bill Clinton, who in my view was nonetheless probably a better saxophonist than he was President. But I digress. In Sonny’s acceptance speech he said “I’m very happy that jazz, the greatest American music, is being recognized through this honor, and I’m grateful to accept this award on behalf of the gods of our music. Amen to that.


The original pressing, Prestige 7079, fetches up to $2,000 or more, so I have kept a look out for affordable alternatives, especially after suffering the hiss of the Prestige 60’s gold label reissue. This record has had many faces over the years, though few up to the mark of the original:


This however was a new one for me – the French Sixties genuine Prestige reissue – that cover is something else, very quirky but in a good way, and it is Stereo. This the first time I have seen that cover, and a nice copy, irresistable.

The matrix codes in the run-out are the Prestige second pressing catalogue number 7326 and a local number for the release. Both are machine stamped, not hand-inscribed as is customary with Prestige releases. There are no RVG initials in the runout, as is usual with records pressed from Prestige original stampers, found with the gold label and UK Esquire pressing. The source of this French pressing therefore remains unknown, however Pathe Marconi produced excellent pressings at this time, long before getting mixed up with EMI and horrible Blue Note pressings in the 80’s.

Collectors Corner

Found on a Journey to the Dark Side, North London, in friendly record store at  Crouch End, a  suburb bordering Highgate (the poor man’s Hampstead). Not a store I had been to before, and pleased that I did, as I came away with three interesting records, the most interesting being this 60’s French release on Prestige , Dark Blue/Silver Trident labels. (Hi Matt, if you are reading this! )

While some stores in central London have fast throughput so it is essential to drop in two to three times a week, the slower traffic suburban stores warrant a visit every month or two, and Crouch End will definitely be on my map from now on. There is a nice little bakery nearby, Dunns, which does some pretty nice cakes, for any jazz fan with a sweet tooth.

11 thoughts on “Sonny Rollins “Saxophone Colossus” (1956)

  1. I have a USA stereo 1972 pressing of the and it sounds amazing it’s so will done ,
    I also have modern audiophile mono pressings of this as will and I almost prefer the stereo, yes I’m still scratching my head
    Great sound , sometimes the rules go out the window ah ?

    • It may be labeled stereo but it was only recorded in mono so it either plays mono or fake/rechanneled stereo.

  2. It’s indeed fake stereo. You can hear how they did it: move your balance dial, if you have one, from left to right during playback. There’s a significant difference in equalization between left and right. Add the extra reverb and what you get is something that, if you position yourself smack bam in the middle of your loudspeakers, sounds a bit stereo-ish. It’s happened countless of times in the past. Flip through a pile of rock ‘n’ roll and other fifties and sixties “best of” compilations on vinyl in any given record store that carries a 2nd hand department and you will find tons of LPs that feature electronically enhanced or rechannelled music “for your listening enjoyment”… -Still the cover of this release is fabulous and although the signal is doctored to simulate stereo, I can’t really say that it sounds totally horrible here at the office 😉

  3. (Welcome Cristian!) Agree about rechannelled stereo, generally one to avoid, but I have to say it sounds very acceptable on the “big system”. May be The French brought in a “cordon blue” chef to whisk up the sound with a clove or two of garlic, who knows.

    Luckily, the cover is in mono.

  4. I never liked rechanneled stereo from mono recordings as I haven’t yet digested Blue Note monos from stereo recordings since 4004.

  5. Hi… The “STEREO” labelling on the cover got my attention, as “Saxophone Colossus” was recorded in mono in 1956 in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, as he would not start recording in stereo before 1957 for Blue Note and 1958 for Prestige. So that would explain why no original Prestige stampers for this one. Is it rechanneled stereo? Or is it mono nonetheless? How does it sound to you?

    By the way, thank you very much for a highly interesting blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s