New Sonny Rollins Collection “Go West!: The Contemporary Records Albums” Is Available NOW | WATCH NEW VIDEO!

NEW SONNY ROLLINS COLLECTION
GO WEST!: THE CONTEMPORARY RECORDS ALBUMS
ARRIVES TODAY

Continuing Craft Recordings’ celebration of Contemporary Records, Go West! explores the legendary saxophonist’s output with the influential jazz label

180-gram 3-LP and 3-CD box sets contain newly mastered audio by Bernie Grundman of Way Out West, Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders and Contemporary Alternate Takes

Plus an exclusive 2021 interview with Sonny Rollins and new liner notes by GRAMMY®-winning music historian Ashley Kahn

Today, Craft Recordings releases Go West!: The Contemporary Records Albums, the 3-LP and 3-CD collection that explores Sonny Rollins’ output for Lester Koenig’s revered Los Angeles jazz label. Newly cut from the original analog tapes by GRAMMY®-winning engineer (and former Contemporary Records studio employee) Bernie Grundman, the 20-track set presents two classic albums from the legendary saxophonist’s catalog: Way Out West (recorded in March 1957) and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders (October 1958). Adding additional context are six alternate takes, culled from both albums. Originally released in 1986 on the long-out-of-print compilation album Contemporary Alternate Takes, these tracks allow listeners to hear Rollins and his fellow musicians develop such iconic recordings as “Way Out West” and “Come, Gone.”

The 3-LP edition (pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI) and the 3-CD set both include an expanded booklet with new liner notes by the GRAMMY® Award-winning music historian Ashley Kahn. Also included is a new interview with Rollins, conducted by Kahn in August 2021. Beginning today, fans can stream or download an alternate take of “You.” Previously unavailable on digital platforms, the recording was captured during the sessions for Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders.

Go West!: The Contemporary Records Albums is part of an ongoing collection of special releases celebrating the 70th anniversary of Contemporary Records, including 2021’s Ornette Coleman – Genesis of Genius, which is available here, and the Contemporary Records Acoustic Sounds series, featuring a variety of classic, 180-gram vinyl reissues from the likes of Art Pepper, Benny Carter and Shelly Manne, available here.

In the spring of 1957, 26-year-old Sonny Rollins was primed for a new adventure. For nearly a decade, the tenor saxophonist had worked his way up through the ranks of the New York City jazz scene. By the mid-50s, Rollins was playing alongside such stars as Miles Davis, Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and Thelonious Monk, and had released his first albums as a leader on Prestige Records. The saxophonist had also established himself as a talented composer, through such now-iconic jazz standards as “Oleo,” “Airegin,” “Doxy” and “St. Thomas.” But while the Harlem-born artist was firmly entrenched in the East Coast hard bop scene, the opportunity to explore the sights and sounds of the West Coast (where the cool jazz movement was in full swing) had a strong appeal. Moreover, having recently concluded his contractual obligations with Prestige, Rollins was a free agent. In his new liner notes, Ashley Kahn writes, “The idea of freedom comes up often in chronicles of Rollins during this period. It’s noted in the music he was creating—particularly in his decision to perform and record with piano-less rhythm accompaniment, allowing for a harmonic freedom, but also in his extended improvisations that developed into lengthy stories of their own. Rollins was developing his sound and approach on a daily basis.”

At the center of the West Coast jazz scene was Contemporary Records. Founded in 1951 by former screenwriter and film producer Lester Koenig, the young label was home to some of Los Angeles’ most exciting artists, including Shelly Manne, Barney Kessel, Hampton Hawes, Art Pepper and André Previn. From its state-of-the-art recording facilities to its high-impact jacket art, Contemporary Records had quickly established itself as an industry tastemaker—and Rollins wanted to take part in the action. Koenig, who had recently begun pairing East and West Coast musicians together, was just as eager to work with the rising star.

“I think everybody on the scene knew about Contemporary Records. Contemporary had a very positive reputation, a good name,” recalls Rollins, speaking to Kahn in 2021. “[Koenig] seemed to be a very resolute fellow, a no-nonsense type of guy, and a very charming person. . . . He was very respectful and a supporter of the music. He knew the history.”

Rollins commemorated his inaugural trip to California with Way Out West. Recorded in the early hours of March 7 with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, the album marked the saxophonist’s first in a trio setting. A loose concept record, Way Out West was comprised of originals (“Come Gone” and the title track), standards (Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” Isham Jones’ “There Is No Greater Love”) and a pair of Western classics: Johnny Mercer’s “I’m an Old Cowhand” and Peter DeRose’s “Wagon Wheels.” Engineer Roy DuNann (whom Rollins refers to as “the Rudy Van Gelder of the West Coast”) recorded the sessions.

The memorable jacket art, photographed by Bill Claxton, was also conceived of by Rollins. The desert scene features the musician as a lone cowboy, drawing a saxophone from his gun holster. “I used to go to the movies every week in Harlem and I happened to be a big cowboy fan,” reveals Rollins. “They were my heroes and they were always the good guys. They stood for justice. In the end, good would always win over bad.”

In 1958, Rollins returned to Los Angeles—but this time he was a star. In the two years following his first visit, the saxophonist had released multiple albums (including the groundbreaking Freedom Suite), made his debut at Carnegie Hall and was hailed by critics as the decade’s most influential tenor sax player. Rollins had also married his first wife, actress and model Dawn Finney, whom he met during his first trip to California. His follow-up for Contemporary, Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders, would bookend this eventful era—marking the musician’s final album of the ’50s, before he embarked on his first European tour and took a three-year hiatus, ahead of his next artistic phase.

Recorded over three days that October, Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders found the horn player primarily in a quintet setting, backed by Manne, Barney Kessel (guitar), Hampton Hawes (piano) and Leroy Vinnegar (bass), with a guest appearance by vibraphonist Victor Feldman—all of whom also recorded as leaders on the label, as the title implies. Bridging the sounds of both coasts, the album showcased the talents of each musician, as they played eight standards, including “Alone Together” (Schwartz/Dietz), “You” (Donaldson/Adamson) and “How High the Moon” (Lewis/Hamilton).

“I really like the mix of tunes we did on the Leaders album, and I also like that the record shows there is a difference between the West Coast and East Coast musicians back then,” notes Rollins. “The musicians out there were just like the West Coast itself—beautiful landscape, beautiful weather, everything like that… East Coast jazz was more hard-edged. The bebop music we were playing at that time represented that divide—I could hear the difference.”

Rollins’ love affair with California wasn’t just about the scenery, however. To him, these trips and their resulting albums represented a unique moment in his life—one filled with creative exploration, a thrilling sense of opportunity and romance. “Being out West felt like new beginnings to me,” he explains. “That whole experience in L.A. was a moment of growth. I’m so grateful that I’ve lived to the age that I am and that I could learn. I’m still learning, you know, growing and learning.”

Click here to order Go West!: The Contemporary Records Albums. Exclusive Contemporary Records merchandise also available here.

Sonny Rollins – Go West!: The Contemporary Records Albums tracklist (Vinyl)

LP 1: Way Out West
Side One
1. I’m An Old Cowhand
2. Solitude
3. Come, Gone
Side Two
1. Wagon Wheels
2. There Is No Greater Love
3. Way Out West

LP 2: Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders
Side One
1. I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star
2. Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody
3. How High The Moon
4. You
Side Two
1. I’ve Found A New Baby
2. Alone Together
3. In The Chapel In The Moonlight
4. The Song Is You

LP3: Contemporary Alternate Takes
Side One
1. I’m An Old Cowhand (Alternate Take)
2. Come, Gone (Alternate Take)
Side Two
1. Way Out West (Alternate Take)
2. The Song Is You (Alternate Take)
3. You (Alternate Take)
4. I’ve Found A New Baby (Alternate Take)

Sonny Rollins – Go West!: The Contemporary Records Albums tracklist (CD/Digital)

Disc 1: Way Out West
1. I’m An Old Cowhand
2. Solitude
3. Come, Gone
4. Wagon Wheels
5. There Is No Greater Love
6. Way Out West

Disc 2: Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders
1. I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star
2. Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody
3. How High The Moon
4. You
5. I’ve Found A New Baby
6. Alone Together
7. In The Chapel In The Moonlight
8. The Song Is You

Disc 3: Contemporary Alternate Takes
1. I’m An Old Cowhand (Alternate Take)
2. Come, Gone (Alternate Take)
3. Way Out West (Alternate Take)
4. The Song Is You (Alternate Take)
5. You (Alternate Take)
6. I’ve Found A New Baby (Alternate Take)

About Contemporary Records
Founded in 1951 by Lester Koenig (December 3, 1917 – November 21, 1977), Contemporary Records is a uniquely Hollywood story. An intellectual who loved the arts, Koenig (pronounced kay-nig) thrived in the film industry as a screenwriter, co-producer, and assistant to William Wyler, playing an important role on landmark films such as The Best Years of Our Lives, Detective Story and Roman Holiday. Koenig’s life in movies was effectively ended by the Red Scare in 1953, when he was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was flayed by the conservative Hollywood establishment for having left-wing sympathies, and blacklisted he turned his attention to Good Time Jazz, a label he’d launched in 1949, to record a Dixieland combo featuring players who all had day jobs with Disney. He initially created Contemporary as an outlet for new contemporary classical works, but his ears were wide open and by the mid-1950s many of Southern California’s most exciting jazz artists were eager to document their music in what was rapidly becoming one of the best studios on the West Coast under the auspices of Roy DuNann, the sound engineer Koenig lured away from Capitol Records in 1956. The artists responded to Koenig’s steadfast faith in their creativity, and Contemporary became the essential vehicle for L.A. modernists and East Coast players looking for respite from the New York hustle. Seven decades later, the label’s legacy looks more imposing than ever, as the albums that Lester Koenig and his son John recorded continue to inspire and influence leading players on the contemporary scene. To learn more, go to CraftRecordings.com/contemporaryrecords.

About Craft Recordings
Craft Recordings is home to one of the largest and most essential collections of master recordings and compositions in the world. Its storied repertoire includes landmark releases from icons such as Joan Baez, John Coltrane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Celia Cruz, Miles Davis, Isaac Hayes, John Lee Hooker, Little Richard, R.E.M., Joan Sebastian, and Traveling Wilburys. Plus, the catalog recordings of celebrated contemporary acts including A Day to Remember, Evanescence, Alison Krauss, Nine Inch Nails, Taking Back Sunday and Violent Femmes, to name just a few. Renowned imprints with catalogs issued under the Craft banner include Fania, Fantasy, Fearless, Musart, Nitro, Panart, Prestige, Riverside, Rounder, Specialty, Stax, Vanguard, Varèse Sarabande, Vee-Jay and Victory, among many others. Craft creates thoughtfully curated packages, with a meticulous devotion to quality and a commitment to preservation—ensuring that these recordings endure for new generations to discover. Craft is also home to the Billie Holiday and Tammy Wynette estates which preserve and protect their respective names, likeness and music through day-to-day legacy management of these cultural trailblazers.

Craft Recordings is the catalog label team for Concord. For more info, visit CraftRecordings.com and follow on FacebookTwitterInstagramTikTok, and YouTube.

Sonny Rollins | Go West!: The Contemporary Records Albums
Contemporary Records | Release Date: Digital: March 17, 2023; LP/CD: June 23, 2023

For more info, visit CraftRecordings.com and follow on

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