Meeting on a gig with Miles Davis in the late ’40s at the Audubon Ballroom in New York, tenor saxophonists Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane—two of the greatest innovators of jazz to ever live—struck up not only a musical connection, but a personal friendship over the years of crossing paths. Stylistically, the two were moving in different, but intersecting circles. Where Trane was evolving harmonically, Sonny was evolving rhythmically and inflectionally. The two were a match made in musical heaven in a time that allowed them to interact on a musical and personal level. Rollins remembers Coltrane as a man who “when he said something, meant it. And that was different from most other people.”

John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins

Jazz documentarian Bret Primack (the Jazz Video Guy) put together a short film exploring the relationship of these two jazz giants including interviews with Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Heath, and Paul Jeffrey—both of whom were close to both Trane and Sonny—as well as some footage of live performances. Check out The Story of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane:

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While many musicians remember seeing the two perform in Miles Davis’ group around town, there exists only one official recording of Trane and Sonny playing together and that is on the title track to Rollins’ 1956 album Tenor Madness. While at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey with Miles Davis recording material that would go into Workin’ with the Miles Davis QuintetRelaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, and Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Coltrane along with Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones walked down the hall to Sonny’s studio and ended up recording Tenor Madness. Trane played with Sonny on one song which turned into a twelve-minute duet between the the friends. With no sense of competition, these two colossus musicians complement each other well. Take a listen to “Tenor Madness”:

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Words by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)


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