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Posted on 6/14/2007at 9:16 AM
50th Anniversary Concert

On the evening of November 29, 1957, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, then 27 years old, took to the stage of Carnegie Hall for the first time. Sharing the bill that night with Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, and the Thelonious Monk Quartet featuring John Coltrane, Rollins played three songs – “Moritat,” “Sonnymoon for Two,” and “Some Enchanted Evening” – with bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Kenny Dennis.

Come September 18, 2007, Rollins will mark the 50th anniversary of that milestone in his legendary career by revisiting the same repertoire in the same trio format – with special guests Roy Haynes on drums and Christian McBride on acoustic bass. Sonny’s own Oleo Productions will present the concert, which will also feature a set with his working band of Clifton Anderson, Bobby Broom, Bob Cranshaw, and Kimati Dinizulu.

“We’re making a statement with this event,” says Rollins. “First of all, the concert is being produced in-house by the musicians, and being recorded for my own label [Doxy]. It’s also a validation of the contemporaries that Roy and I played with, and an affirmation of the music we’ve been involved with all our lives.”

For a 25-year period beginning in the 1970s, Rollins’s special-guest concerts – usually held at Carnegie Hall but sometimes at Town Hall or the Beacon Theater instead – were perennial highlights of the jazz calendar. Among the musicians to appear as Sonny’s guests were old friends and young lions: Terence Blanchard, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Branford Marsalis, Tony Williams, Jim Hall, Grover Washington Jr., Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis. The last such event took place at the Beacon, where Sonny hosted Percy Heath, Walter Bishop Jr., Jackie McLean, Gil Coggins, and Wallace Roney way back in November 1995.

That 12-year hiatus is now over. “Let’s take it to the bridge,” Roy Haynes says of the September concert. “I can’t wait!”

Tickets go on sale Monday, July 30, online at www.carnegiehall.org; by phone (CarnegieCharge) at 212-247-7800; or at the box office at 57th Street and 7th Avenue. The concert recording, to be released in spring 2008 by Doxy Records, will also include the 1957 trio material, a 20-minute tape recently made available to Rollins by the Library of Congress.

Roy Haynes and Sonny Rollins had a number of opportunities to work together early in the tenor saxophonist’s career. (Haynes, 82, remembers that the younger Rollins “used to come to my house, but I didn’t even know he played an instrument then.”) Their first professional encounter was also Rollins’s first time in the recording studio, on an April 1949 Babs Gonzales session. Soon to follow were dates with Bud Powell in August 1949, Miles Davis in January 1951, and Sonny’s own debut as a leader in that same 1951 session. Haynes was the drummer for Rollins’s first Riverside recording, The Sound of Sonny, in June 1957, and for a 1958 Newport Jazz Festival appearance with bassist Henry Grimes. Their final meeting on record came in July 1958, for Sonny Rollins and the Big Brass (MGM).

“The great Roy Haynes,” says Rollins, “one of the top drummers in jazz history, has been my buddy and friend for many years – all the way back to the Hill [Sugar Hill, in Harlem]. I am so lucky to have him this night at Carnegie Hall.”

Christian McBride, 35, was brought to the project on a recommendation from Haynes, with whom he had toured and recorded on several occasions. “When a musician is highly praised by all of his fellows,” Rollins says, “it means something. I am looking forward to having this opportunity to play with Christian.”

Less than a week after the Carnegie Hall concert – on September 23 – Sonny Rollins will perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which is celebrating its own 50th anniversary. Sonny appeared at the very first Monterey festival, in 1957.

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