Blue Note’s 3-LP Set of Sonny Rollins Live at the Vanguard Is ‘Best Seat in the House’

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The three-LP set marks the first time Rollins’ complete recorded performances at the Village Vanguard on Nov. 3, 1957, will be made available in a single vinyl package. The collection is also available as a two-CD set and on all digital formats.

(Photo: Courtesy Blue Note Records)

Blue Note Records has released Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard: The Complete Masters, a special Tone Poet Vinyl Edition of the legendary tenor saxophonist’s tour-de-force live trio album. The expanded three-LP set, available via the Blue Note Store, marks the first time Rollins’ complete recorded performances at the Village Vanguard on Nov. 3, 1957, will be made available in a single vinyl package. The collection is also available as a two-CD set and on all digital formats.

Produced for release by Joe Harley, the vinyl is all-analog and cut directly from Rudy Van Gelder’s newly discovered and never-before-used original 7.5ips master tapes by Kevin Gray. Pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI, the three LPs come packaged in a deluxe tip-on trifold jacket that includes a booklet with never-before-seen photos by Francis Wolff; essays by esteemed critics Nate Chinen and Bob Blumenthal; an excerpt from Aidan Levy’s Rollins biography Saxophone Colossus that provides a behind-the-scenes account of the volatile circumstances surrounding the recording; and a new interview with Rollins reflecting upon the album in conversation with Blue Note President Don Was.

“I am thrilled with how this special edition of Sonny’s Village Vanguard masterpiece turned out,” said Harley. “For years, I had seen the famous photo of Rudy Van Gelder and Alfred Lion at this gig which showed a very visible Ampex 601 portable tape deck. I had always thought that perhaps it had been there as a safety to Rudy’s big 15ips Ampex deck, but then it hit me: Of course he didn’t bring the big, heavy pro deck downstairs at the Vanguard … how would you even get it down the stairs? Rudy had taken the 7.5ips tapes back to his studio and transferred them to his main 15ips deck to then be assembled and readied for mastering. So, thanks to the first-time use of the actual master tapes and a trove of newly discovered photos, you now have the best seat in the house.”

Rollins had already recorded three Blue Note studio dates for Alfred Lion — Sonny Rollins, Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2, and Newk’s Time — in the year preceding the Vanguard session, which would be Rollins’ first-ever live album, as well as the first-ever live album to be recorded at the iconic New York jazz club. The music was predominantly captured during the evening set featuring Wilbur Ware on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, with two pieces coming from the afternoon set featuring Donald Bailey on bass and Pete La Roca on drums.

“I was so involved in what I was doing,” Rollins told Was. “I was a young guy. Playing the music was paramount in my mind. That was the only thing I was thinking about: having fun and getting the musical vibe right. … I know it was a good record and I was completely happy playing with those guys: Elvin and, of course, Wilbur Ware. Everything just fit together perfectly.” DB



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