The Sonny Rollins Omnibook Review

My first recording of Sonny Rollins that I heard as a teenager was “Saxophone Colossus”.  I checked it out of the local library. I didn’t play tenor saxophone back then but I was interested in anything having to do with jazz so I checked it out.   I remember trying to get into it, but it was so different than the “jazz” I had been listening to at the time.  I had been mostly listening to a combination of David Sanborn, Spyro Gyra, Hank Crawford and Chuck Mangione.  I was probably in 9th grade at the time and sorry to say a bit to young and unseasoned to appreciate what I was hearing on Saxophone Colossus……….

About 4-5 years later, in college, I got into Michael Brecker and bought a tenor saxophone.  I remember being at Berklee and a recital was happening that week that a tenor sax student from NEC was playing on.  (I cannot for the life of me remember who the student was but wonder if it was maybe Kenny Brooks as he went to NEC in 1988 I believe…….but I don’t know for sure).  My friends told me this student from NEC was totally into Sonny Rollins and as I was sitting at the recital I remember being totally blown away.  I loved everything about the way this guy played the tenor sax.  His sound was amazing.  Full, lush and huge and he was one of the most swingin’ students I had ever heard.  His lines were amazing also!  It wasn’t a modern sound or modern lines but just “old school” straight ahead swing with killin’ lines.  I remember being totally stoked as I left that recital and thinking that that was how I wanted to sound on the tenor saxophone.  If he was into Sonny Rollins, then I needed to get into Sonny Rollins!

I left that recital and went straight to Tower Records and bought Saxophone Colossus,  A Night at the Village Vanguard, Sonny Side Up and I believe Tenor Madness.  I am glad to write that at that point in my development, I was much more appreciative of these albums and Sonny Rollins as a player.  I listened to them non-stop for about a month and all the elements I loved about that recital I could hear magnified a hundredfold in those recordings with Sonny Rollins.

Recently, I received an email that Hal Leonard was releasing a Sonny Rollins Omnibook for the tenor saxophone and all that excitement from the late 80’s came flooding back to me.  I had to check this out!  I contacted Hal Leonard and asked if I could review a copy.

The Sonny Rollins Omnibook

I received the Sonny Rollins Omnibook a few days ago.  I had actually forgotten about it, so when I received the package in the mail I had no idea what it was.  I opened it in the kitchen in front of my wife and when I saw what it was I got a huge grin on my face and started dancing around the kitchen with the book saying “Oh Yeah!, Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah!”  She was laughing at me because she can’t believe I am a fifty year old man at times…….

Yesterday, I spent a few hours going through the book.  I didn’t do any playing,  but I went through the book listening to the tracks as I followed along with the transcriptions.  I could find all of these tracks on Youtube which was awesome!  There were a few that were harder to find but if you try different search words you can find them.  For example, I couldn’t find  “Wail when searching with “Sonny Rollins” but I could find it when I searched for it with the word “Navarro” (It is on a Fats Navarro album). I also couldn’t find “There Will Never Be Another You” but could find it if I searched for “Rollins Stockholm 1959”)

The Sonny Rollins Omnibook was transcribed by Chris “Doc” Stewart who was a student of Charlie Shoemake.  There are some great paragraphs on the second page of the book where Chris writes about how he studied with Charlie Shoemake and Charlie would use Sonny Rollins transcriptions with Chris in their lessons.  Here is a quote from Chris on this:

“By using Sonny’s transcribed solos, Charlie pointed out to me how Sonny would craft his improvisations following an incredibly well thought out set of musical rules that respected all the important elements of jazz.”-Chris “Doc” Stewart

I also love this quote from Charlie Shoemake who Chris asked to pick out all the solos that would be included in the Sonny Rollins Omnibook.

“He (Sonny) exemplified the most creative, in-depth mastery of the basic three elements of music: melody, rhythm and harmony.  Sonny has mastered his craft to the point that his improvisations are completely free of any restriction but still maintain the basic structure of the song.  This to me-though it’s a very difficult task and one that requires enormous work-is what truly great jazz playing is supposed to be about……..By studying Sonny Rollins, you will be dealing with not just a portion of the necessary elements of jazz music, but with ALL of them.  He has been and always will be a gigantic influence on the way jazz music should be played.”-Charlie Shoemake

The Sonny Rollins Omnibook

The first thing I noticed about the Sonny Rollins Omnibook is that Chris “Doc” Stewart went above and beyond in the details included in these transcriptions.  In many of the transcriptions, there are trumpet lines included, piano lines (many with the voicing written out), bass cues, three part harmony lines when there are three parts in the melody such as when Rollins is playing with Sonny Stitt and Miles.  During the rests it tells you what instrument is soloing or if there is trading fours with drums going on.  All of these specifics make it so much easier to find where you are in the transcriptions.

The other details that are great is that there are a ton of articulation markings throughout each solo to help with how to play these solos like Sonny Rollins.  As I look through the book I see all sorts of, slurs, accents, staccato markings, ghost notes, grace notes, scooped notes, etc…….

It is also obvious that Chris did not just fill in the known chords of each tune over the transcriptions but added the details of the chords even when there were alterations or substitutions.  You can easily see this as you look through each tune and compare the chords of each chorus. Many times there are differences in each chorus as you compare chords.  This is a cool feature for those of us interested in the harmonies going on behind these solos.

The Sonny Rollins Omnibook Song List

Airegin,  All the Things You Are, Almost Like Being in Love, Blue Seven, Bouncing with Bud, But Not For Me, Compulsion, Dance of the Infidels, Dig, Down, Doxy, Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, 52nd Street Theme, I Know That You Know, I Remember You, I Want to be Happy, I’ll Remember April, I’ll Take Romance, In Your Own Sweet Way, Just In Time, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Mambo Bounce, Moving Out, Namely You, No Moe, Old Devil Moon, Oleo, On a Slow Boat To China, Out of the Blue, Pent Up House, Raincheck, St. Thomas, The Scene Is Clean, Scoops, The Serpent’s Tooth, Solid, Sonnymoon for Two, Strode Rode, Tenor Madness, There Will Never Be Another You, Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Good-Bye!), Tune Up, Valse Hot, Vierd Blues, Wail, What Is This Thing Called Love, When Your Lover Has Gone, Whispering, Woodyn’ You, You Stepped Out of a Dream

 

As I mentioned earlier, I spent a few hours going through the Sonny Rollins Omnibook yesterday.  I wanted to add just a few of my “Wow” moments that I encountered.

  • First of all,  after listening to these transcriptions, it is now my belief that Sonny Rollins is the undisputed master of the two bar break as well as soloing over stop time.  He has the amazing talent of being able to come up with the most killin’ line for every two bar break in this book.  Every time I heard one my reaction was the same “Holy Crap!  That was killin’!”  So many of the stop time lines were just as great also.  I get the feeling that all these solo moments are just opportunities for Sonny Rollin’s genius light to shine even brighter.
  • Doxy!  The swinging lines in this solo just killed me!
  • Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye!  The creativity in rhythm and phrasing on just the head blew my mind.  The lines in the solo are beautiful and notice how much he quotes the melody during his solo…….
  • 52nd Theme-Lines from heaven!
  • I Know That You Know!  Amazing stop time solo.  This was in my list of solos I wanted to transcribe and I am so excited to see this written out!
  • I Remember You!  Beautiful sultry tenor sound and the solo break and double time runs are amazing!
  • In Your Own Sweet Way!   First Sonny run after Miles solo…..WHAT?   Kills it!
  • Mambo Bounce!  I loved this one so much!  To me he sounds more like “Bird” on tenor sax than “Bird” sounds like on tenor sax.  He even throws in some blatant “Bird” quotes within the solo………
  • Moving Out!   Bebop Lines galore!  You could study these lines for a couple years……
  • No Moe-Love the rhythmic variance Sonny uses in this solo.  He sounds like he is truly improvising and having a great time playing with the rhythms.
  • Oleo-Classic! Killin’ rhythm changes solo.  If you haven’t already studied this one, you should!
  • Pent Up House-solo is so inventive and creative!
  • St. Thomas!  What can I say?  If you  don’t already know this one as a tenor player you should just pack up your sax and become an accountant………..
  • The Serpent’s Tooth-Can I just say that I honestly barely recognize Charlie Parker as the second tenor solo on this tune.  I was listening to it and thought “Whose this guy?”  When I looked and found out it was Parker I was floored.  Listening to it again I could hear it in a few of the 16th note runs but the rest of the solo……not much.
  • A STUDY IN THE BLUES!!!  Check out Sonneymoon for Two, Solid, Scoops, Tenor Madness and Vierd Blues.   Spend a couple years with those solos and you should do alright on the next Bb blues called at your local jam session………
  • Strode Rode!  Another burnin’ classic tune.  Love the solo over just the bass on the beginning of the solo.
  • Valse Hot!  I think this is the only tune in three in the book and Sonny is awesome on it.  Great solo to study for those wanting to play better in three.  Sonny sound so relaxed and nails it!

There is so much more I could write about,  I truly am in love with this book!  As great and impactful as the Charlie Parker Omnibook was for alto sax players throughout the last 40 years I believe the Sonny Rollins Omnibook can be that book for tenor players.  It is just a plethora of incredible bop lines, licks, phrasings and melodic ideas that can be worked on for a lifetime.  Amazing work by Chris “Doc” Stewart!!

Great job by Hal Leonard in creating another great Omnibook in their collection that includes John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Marsalis, Joe Pass, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and now Sonny Rollins.  You can get the book from Hal Leonard but also at many other online retailers like jazzbook.com or Amazon.com.

If you end up getting the Sonny Rollins Omnibook please feel free to come back and share your thoughts and comments with all of us below.  If you have other thoughts about Sonny Rollins I would love to hear them also.  Thank you to Sonny Rollins for who you are and your amazing contribution to this music.    Steve

Disclosure: I received the book mentioned above for free from Hal Leonard in the hope that I would perhaps review it here my blog. Regardless, I only review saxophone related products that I enjoy and believe will be good for other saxophone players to try also. Steve
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Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 25 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.

Comments

  1. Daniel Hamilton says:

    Love this book, my only disappointment is that the strode rode in my book is transcribed a half step down from how he plays it on saxophone colossus

  2. Daniel, Really? I just checked mine and it is in the right key as my recording. The first chord is Gm7 and the first note is D. If your Strode Rode is a half step down that would be bizarre………! I don’t even know how that could happen………

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