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Sonny Rollins Spent A Mythical 'Night at the Village Vanguard' 60 Years Ago Today

On the 60th anniversary of the touchstone jazz album, Sonny Rollins, Fred Hersch, and others recall the room's magic and its enduring legacy and influence.
Sonny Rollins during the recording of A Night at the Village Vanguard. Source: Francis Wolff

One of the greatest jazz albums ever made was recorded 60 years ago today. It's A Night at the Village Vanguard, a live date by saxophonist Sonny Rollins, featuring a muscular backdrop of bass and drums. It's not a carefully plotted concept album, nor a manifesto, but a document with the slangy nonchalance of a conversation overheard on the street, extemporaneous and unburdened. It's a slice of musical vérité that captures a true master of the form on a good day, in a generous and jocular mood.

At 87, Rollins is an acknowledged eminence in American culture: Earlier this year his archives were acquired by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, and there's a serious effort afoot to rename the Williamsburg Bridge in his honor.

He's also legendarily self-effacing, the harshest critic and most reluctant listener of his own past work. By his estimation, he hasn't heard A Night at the Village Vanguard since shortly after it was released. But, when I asked him to talk about the album and the circumstances around its creation, he readily obliged.

"The Vanguard was sort of the premier room at that time,"

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