Massive Talent: Sonny Rollins - Newk's Time

Sonny Rollins • Newk's Time • 1959 • Blue Note Records
Recorded September 22, 1957 at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, New Jersey

The Selections:

The Tracks:

A1. Tune Up
A2. Asiatic Raes
A3. Wonderful! Wonderful!
B1. The Surrey With The Fringe On Top
B2. Blues For Philly Joe
B3. Namely You

The Players:

Sonny Rollins - Tenor Sax
Wynton Kelly - Piano
Doug Watkins - Bass
Philly Joe Jones - Drums

The Record:

The full front cover photograph, By Francis WOlff

Over the course of 1957 Sonny Rollins recorded a run of classic albums - Way Out WestSonny Rollins, Vol. 2The Sound Of SonnyNewk's Time and A Night At The Village Vanguard - that may be unequaled in the annals of jazz history. The dude was simply on fire. Perhaps most impressive was that the albums all succeeded with different personnel and configurations (trios, quartets, quintets) that showed just how versatile and adaptable Rollins massive talent could be.

Newk's Time was not released until 1959, so it doesn't always get the high praise that his most famous work from 1957 garners - Way Out West and A Night At The Village Vanguard get that honor - but it is certainly worthy of any accolades that come it's way and is as good as any album Rollins recorded prior to his 1959 "retirement" from jazz music (the title of the LP, by the way, comes from a nickname Rollins acquired due to his resemblance to the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe). While the music on Newk's Time falls firmly into the hard bop mode, Rollins inserts quite a bit of bop influence in the tunes, with his long and winding runs on the tenor. In lesser hands, these runs might come off as showy or even gaudy, but with Rollins it is a celebration of the almost supernatural power he wields over his chosen instrument. His playing on Newk's Time reveals a probing and creative musical soul, and illustrates why at this time in his career he was considered the top tenor man in the jazz world.

The most well known track on the LP is "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top," a duet between Rollins and Jones, with the two men in perfect harmony on the much played Rodgers and Hammerstein tune. It is the logical extension of the groundbreaking sax-bass-drums trio format that Rollins pioneered, and is a truly amazing display of talent by both musicians (for some reason I always figured that a surrey was a hat, but it turns out it is a four-wheel covered carriage. But I digress). The final track on the album, "Namely You," also merits special attention, it is the only ballad present and it highlights the more tender side of Rollins' playing. It may be the shortest track on the LP, but it packs the most emotional punch in my book. It also perfectly displays the exquisite workmanship of Wynton Kelly, who always adapted perfectly to the style and tone of whichever horn player he happened to be sitting in with. I've said it before, but so much of late 1950s hard bop just wouldn't be the same without his presence behind the piano, and he proves that once again on Newk's Time.

The Vinyl:

The Details: A vintage stereo pressing on the "black b" label, this one circa 1973-1975 due to the "A Division Of..." along the bottom. Being that this is a classic session from a legendary player, it was re-issued quite a bit - including on the blue and white Liberty and United Artists labels - over the years. The original mono pressing from 1959 would be deep groove with the "47 West 63rd • NYC" address and no "Inc." or registered symbol along the bottom. The stereo versions of Newk's Time (first released in 1966) have the Blue Note logo under the title, while the mono versions have the catalog number.

The Price: I paid around $20 for this about five years ago (I can't recall the exact price), which is a decent deal for a "black b" pressing in VG+ condition all around. Original pressings will easily set you back hundreds of dollars, while you can snatch up a '70s pressing for only a fraction of that price. 

The Sound: While these mid-1970s pressings can be hit or miss sound-wise, this pressing offers up absolutely fantastic sound (it does not have the Van Gelder stamp for those who obsess over such things). It features loud and wide playback with lots of depth and all the musicians come through with great separation of their instruments. With these later pressings, condition is everything, and it certainly helps that the vinyl looks like it was barely played back in the day. 

Final Thoughts:

Rollins was absurdly productive from 1955 thru 1959, producing one classic album after another, all of which stand up incredibly well today. Newk's Time ranks up there with the best of these sessions, and like a fine wine it only gets better with age. It is a fantastic record to introduce newbies to the world of jazz, yet it sustains the interest of the veteran listener even after years of repeated spins. Rollins contributions to the jazz world are beyond measure, and Newk's Time stands as a rock solid testament to those achievements.