Vinyl Spotlight: Sonny Rollins Quartet (Esquire EP-148) Original 45 RPM 7″ EP

Original 45 RPM 7″ UK pressing circa 1955
Recorded October 25, 1954 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Selection: “I Want to Be Happy” (Caesar-Youmans)

Last spring I got a Columbia GP-3, the workhorse portable record player made in Japan that has been serving beatdiggers and the like for decades. Finances were good at the time and I had been trying to find ways to relax and enjoy life more. Since I had always wanted one of these, I didn’t overthink it and just bought it. Lo and behold, a couple months later a friend visiting from Europe got me back into 45s, and as we hopped from shop to shop in Brooklyn last summer, the GP-3 proved invaluable. It allowed us to easily preview records we were otherwise unfamiliar with all while avoiding the complete takeover of a store listening station.

The Columbia GP-3 portable record player

All the 45s I was buying at that point were doo-wop, rhythm & blues, and rock & roll. Most of the records I proudly consider part of my personal collection, but I was also simultaneously investing in a set of records I could use to get back into DJing. Jazz didn’t necessarily fit into the latter category so I was passing it over when I saw it in the bins. But then I realized how fun it would be to take my GP-3 to the park or bring it along when I travel. To this end, I became more alert to the presence of jazz 45s while shopping both in person and online.

Remember that Esquire Monk ten-inch I posted about a few months ago? While conducting general research on Esquire titles around the time I acquired that record, I decided it might be fun to have some Monk on 45. Then I stumbled upon this title and it glorious cover.

The two songs on this British extended play or “E.P.” first appeared in the U.S. most likely in late 1954 or early 1955 on Prestige catalog number 190, a ten-inch long-play featuring Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk. A couple years later the songs would resurface on Prestige 7075, this time a twelve-inch LP that compiled takes from three sessions Rollins and Monk collaborated on in 1953 and ’54. Unfortunately, Rudy Van Gelder is noticeably absent from the mastering process for this E.P., evidenced by the lower signal-to-noise ratio between the music and surface noise.

Prestige catalog numbers 190 and 7075 (photo of 190 courtesy of @jrock1675)

While I’m a big fan of the music and performances here, I’m not the biggest fan of the actual recording. Van Gelder did record this session, though it was recorded during a period in which he seems to have been fascinated with a shiny new toy, a spring reverberation unit. The result is a Rollins unfavorably drenched in artificial-sounding reflections. The truth is it takes away from my enjoyment of the recording a little, but the performances surely make up for it. I enjoy Monk’s especially heavy-handed comping on “I Want to Be Happy”, and I’ve always liked the melody of Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight”, where we find Monk a bit tamer behind Rollins.

Lastly, if it makes sense to call any album covers “sexy”, surely this is one of them. The eye-popping contrast of bold yellow with cream and the cover’s deep black typography demands your attention. Esquire, you have done it again with absolutely killer cover design…hats off.