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Sonny Rollins: “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” / Respecting the Music With Phil Baker

Meet Phil Baker –

A NIGHT AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD – VOL. 1

I consider Sonny Rollins’ “A Night at the Village Vanguard” to be one of the best live jazz recordings ever made. It is both Rollins’ debut recording and also the first live recording from the Village Vanguard, regarded as one of the nation’s premier jazz clubs. When recorded in 1957 this chordless trio was truly ground breaking and innovative.

It is jazz at its best: spontaneous, joyful, and relentlessly swinging. On this song, “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” Rollins is joined by drum titan Elvin Jones and Wilbur Ware, one of my favorite bassists of the era. Wilbur Ware was appropriately from Chicago, the “city of big shoulders.” This song could have sounded cliche and hackneyed if not played by these masters.

The instrumentation of just sax, bass and drums is one of my favorites to play in as well as listen to. The absence of chordal accompaniment is both liberating and demanding. The song is stripped to its core. Rollins’ and Ware’s harmonic mastery reveal the inner beauty of the compelling chord changes, weaving in and out of the harmony as if they had ESP.

In a 1958 interview with August Blume, Coltrane said:

“A bass player like Wilbur Ware, he’s so inventive, man he plays things that are kind of – they’re foreign. If you didn’t know the song, you wouldn’t be able find it because he’s superimposing things, he’s playing around and under and over or something.”

Rollins himself must have loved and respected Ware’s playing. He gave him two solos! Ware makes innovative use of outlining the arpeggios and double stops in his solos. Through this and other recordings Ware will remain one of the bass giants of his era.

Click below to download and listen to “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”
Download 04_Softly_As_In_A_Morning_Sunrise.mp3

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