Nutmegging This Up

Hunting vintage jazz vinyl records in the Nutmeg State

Sonny Rollins – Tenor Madness (1956)


Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophone

Red Garland, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, Philly Joe Jones, drums

John Coltrane guests on “Tenor Madness”


Prestige Records PRLP 7047 – deep groove mono pressing on the “Bergenfield Label,” making this particular LP NOT a first pressing

In the Matrix: PRLP 7047A/B, various letters (AB, sideways C, E) in the dead wax, different on each side

Found online, although oddly enough, the seller resides in Bethel, Connecticut.


As a big fan of jazz and of Sonny Rollins in particular, it’s a little embarrassing that the first time I heard Tenor Madness was when I recently acquired it on a gloriously spotless slab of wax.  Needless to say, as cool as it is to hear vinyl originals of your favorite albums which you first encountered on remastered CDs, it’s a truly unique experience to hear classic albums for the first time in the way that it first hit the ears of those who were alive nearly 30 years before I was born.  Vinyl really paints a lush picture of Sonny’s tone, a little harder than it became “post-retirement,” bringing forth the drama of his phrasing.  He is powerful in a quartet setting, moving mountains with the flick of a finger and a gust of air.


It’s a dimension of soloing that not every player has: drama.  Miles had it in spades, of course.  Benny Golson, sure.  Other players may visit dramatic peaks but few live there.  Even Coltrane, sounding muscular and creative as usual, clearly plays second fiddle on the title tune.  Sonny’s playing, especially on the second side of this LP, seems to point forward to the Sonny of The Freedom Suite (1958, Riverside) who can light up the 20 minute tour de force A side of that LP, and eventually to the wise and joyous Sonny of The Bridge (1962, RCA) – two records that I own and know very well (though I don’t have The Freedom Suite, just a rather wooden yet powerful sounding Jazzland release called Shadow Waltz (JLP 86, although mine is cataloged as AM 86…not sure why)).

Other reasons why this LP is super rad:

– Paul Chambers gets nearly as much solo time as Red Garland (!) including an arco solo on the last cut.

–  Red Garland nicely lays the way for Rollins to be in charge through this date, leaving the bright-lights block chords and tremolo that he is famous for at home.

–  This copy has maybe one pop per side and NONE, NONE, NONE of that static-y distortion that I hear on more beat up mono LPs that I’ve acquired over the last 6 months.  This record is my vindication, for every time I’ve asked for a partial refund or asked to return a record that I sensed had some groove wear to it.  Although there’s a small amount of loud piano attacks that my podunk stereo can’t handle, I get more of a “rumble” than a “shhhh” on this LP, and THAT I can put up with until I upgrade my equipment.  Phil 1, online record salespeople 0.


(my cover for this LP has a blank spine and the NYC address on the back…I guess Prestige reused an old cover for this particular pressing.)


3 comments on “Sonny Rollins – Tenor Madness (1956)

  1. felixstrange
    November 6, 2012

    Lucky, lucky, you! That’s a hard one to find a nice copy of, for sure. I have a blue label/trident pressing which still has the original cover art and pressed from the stamped-RVG original master.

    However, my copy is on pretty chintzy vinyl (not that uncommon for post Yellow-label-era Prestige), so the noise-floor is pretty high. “Tenor Madness”, for example, is a fine listen once the music starts, but once you get to Paul Chamber’s solo on “When Your Lover Has Gone”, the noise becomes a bit annoying.

    Fortunately, there is none of the ” static-y distortion” you mention, which is symptomatic of the groove wear that seems to plague mono LPs. My current theory these days is that it occurs so frequently and severely in mono LPs due to three characteristics of earlier record players: the heavy tracking force, short arms, but most importantly, mono cartridges.

    Since mono LPs only employ lateral modulation in the grooves, the styluses on original mono cartridges were fixed and could not move up and down as do stereo cartridges. This makes sense, since any vertical modulation is noise and not signal.

    However, the heart-breaking consequence for us later-day vinyl inheritors is that when an old mono cartridge mis-tracked, the stylus did not skate (mostly) safely up and out of the groove, but remained forced down into the groove, shredding and shearing the peaks in the grooves.

    Combine that with the fact that many jazz LP listeners of yore did not get the memo about changing your stylus regularly, and you are left with the very spotted vinyl reserves we encounter today.

    Of course, one of the most frustrating consequences of this situation is the classic ‘VG+’ listed ‘Buy it Now!’ LP on eBay which is unlistenable due to groove wear. Since Goldmine and most (all?) other grading scales completely ignore groove wear, this is technically well within eBay’s listing policies.

    • pgiampi1
      November 10, 2012

      I found myself reading all you were saying about mono LPs just nodding incessantly. This has been my exact experience. This copy of Tenor Madness, though…I hate to sound like I’m bragging, but I think it might be perfect. I have a really inadequate stereo setup (see my comment on the Doin’ the Thing post) and yet I listened intently to the entire LP and didn’t hear any static, crackle, distortion, maybe like one tick/pop per side…I’m might be in denial so I’ll have to give it another turn soon.

  2. felixstrange
    November 14, 2012

    Take good care of it and enjoy your bragging rights! As for random ticks and pops, those may just be due to dust. Do you have anything to clean your LPs with?

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