Sonny Criss This is Criss! (1966) Prestige

Track Selection: Sunrise, Sunset

Recognise it? Yes, from the stage show Fiddler on the Roof, a pretty tune, to which Criss adds new poignancy. Forget the show, I’ve never see it anyway. Sonny constructs it as “call and answer”, with the tune calling, and the alto soaring to answer, converging in the refrain. A lovely piece.

Track 2: Steves Blues

A fast-paced minor key blues which showcases Criss’s fleet figure and turn, running the changes,  a sparkling virtuoso of the alto, up there with Phil Woods, Lee Konitz and Art Pepper and Eric Dolphy, not to mention…


Sonny Criss (as) Walter Davis, Jr.(p) Paul Chambers (b) Alan Dawson (d) recorded  October 21, 1966, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. recording by Rudy Van Gelder, produced by Don Schlitten


Another one of the great overlooked jazz albums of the sixties by one of the great overlooked alto players of the bop years, Sonny Criss at the peak of his playing in 1966.  Another winner of the Downbeat award for “Talent Deserving Of Wider Recognition”, Criss spent several years of the previous decade playing and recording in Paris, apparently to escape L.A. Sounds as good a reason as any. In fact no reason at all is as good as any. Beverley Hills Bop anyone? Perhaps if he had followed the well-worn path to New York things would have turned out differently.

Walter Davis’s piano is an unexpected bonus, another player deserving of more attention. Paul Chamber and Alan Dawson complete the essential members of Criss’s A Team. You will not have heard a lot more of Criss, as he died at the age of only fifty in 1977, as a consequence of serious illness.

The alto is a fascinating instrument, capable of mind-mangling speed, slowed only by the inventiveness of the player. The upper register has a beauty of its own, though my heart belongs to bari. Having grown up a guitar player, I find the range of the saxophone thrilling. It’s not easy to cover all the notes in three octaves on a six string fretboard, whereas it just flows under the fingers of the saxophone, an instrument that belongs up there with the greatest inventions of all time, alongside the jet engine and the mobile phone. Above them, in my view.

Vinyl: Prestige 7511 Mono  Blue/ silver trident

A smoking cover, no Surgeon General’s warning.

The Matrix

VAN GELDER machine-stamped, and a first release – no previous catalogue number. Nice.

Collectors Corner

Source: Central London record store

This is more than a shop. It is a place where a casual visit to check for anything new frequently turns into an hour or more conversation with other interesting customers.  This visit was  an hour and a half as not one but two interesting people wandered in and joined in. One, a former Southend record dealer, jazz and soul man, and now music educator working with young underprivileged kids, the other a German photographer and zen master who just happened to have lived in Cologne, knew Gigi Campi, had seen many of the great jazz musicians from the German scene (Albert Manglesdorf, Francy Boland and countless more touring jazz artists) –  live! You just can’t pass up such an opportunity for interesting conversation.

One of the nice things about modern jazz – and there are many –  is the people who like it are invariably nice interesting intelligent knowledgeable and passionate about the music. Is that something you could say about other genres? The great thing about say death metal thrash is…nothing: teenage angst, pimples, and the fact no one else understands you. I declare Modern Jazz “music for grown-ups”, albeit a very, very small under-appreciated demographic, forgotten by business following the pied piper of youth.

7 thoughts on “Sonny Criss This is Criss! (1966) Prestige

  1. Hi again! Sifting through some of your earlier posts I missed the first time around. I find I like to peruse your blog while spinning vinyl. Oftentimes I search to see if you have commented on an LP I am playing, which is why I clicked on this post. I had purchased a sealed first mono pressing of this LP over 6 years ago and like a git sold it in a large effort to condense ‘the collection’ and pay off some debt. I ended up missing the LP – surprise! – and snagged an Original Jazz Classics (OJC) copy to tide me over.

    Just yesterday I found another mono, first pressing of this at a lovely store, Dusty Groove, in Chicago, Illinois (if you are ever in town it is a must!) for $17. I felt duty bound to buy it on the spot!

    Sounds amazing and based on the lack of any spindle wear and the sheen may have been played once or twice if that!

    A Sonny Criss I deem an absolute must have, and my very favorite LP if forced to chose, is “Sonny’s Dream” on Prestige. It is a bigger band recording and somewhat difficult to find in any pressing. I can vouch for the 1970s green label pressing, which is likely all you will be able to find. It is stunning!

    Keep up the great posts!



  2. if Time is a Judge, market isn’t.
    a few Criss albums are really expensive but the true musical value has to be demonstrated yet.
    nice alto player, almost anonymous sound, not a God.
    Eric IS God, Bird is too.
    Criss hasn’t achieved a personal voice, but ask for “Go, man”, where the most intriguing thing is the would’t be cheap.


    • Pardon the expression, but Sonny Simmons may not be “your cup of tea.” He is somewhat avant, free, jazz. Recorded two lps for the ESP label,’Staying on the Watch’ and “Music from the Spheres,’ one on Arhoolie, ‘Manhattan Egos,’ two I believe on Contemporary, ‘Rumasuma’ and ‘Burning Spirits.’ Also played with Dolphy on the Douglas label lp reissued on Vee-Jay and he played with flautist Prince Lasha. I like Simmon’s playing, somewhat beyond Dolphy, yet to my ears acessible.But it is all in the ear of the behearer. His wife at the time, Barbara Donald, often recorded with him on trumpet.


  3. Yes indeed Mr. Sonny Criss. An often overlooked artist. Those West Coast altos were something, Dolphy, Art Pepper, Huey “Sonny” Simmons, Bud Shank, et al.
    As are your posts. Thanks for all your hard work Mr. LJC!!!


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