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Chops: The Good Fight of a Two-Tenor Frontline

Seamus Blake and Jimmy Greene on competition and cooperation of the saxes

Al Cohn Quintet featuring Zoot Sims: "Al and Zoot"
Al Cohn Quintet featuring Zoot Sims: "Al and Zoot"
Gene Ammons Sonny Stitt Quintet": "Boss Tenors + Dig Him!"
Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt Quintet: "Boss Tenors + Dig Him!"
John Coltrane & Hank Mobley: "Two Tenors"
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin Quintet: "Blues Up and Down"
Sonny Rollins Quartet: "Tenor Madness"
Sonny Rollins Quartet: "Tenor Madness"

One tune that Jimmy Greene always plays for his sax students is the title track to Sonny Rollins’ 1956 classic Tenor Madness—the famous tenor battle between Newk and Trane. “Coltrane plays the first solo,” Greene recounts, obviously hearing the thrilling virtuosity in his head.

“He’s doing the things that he was working on at the time: fitting a lot of notes into each measure, playing a lot over each chord; there’s a lot of velocity to what he’s doing. Then Sonny comes in, and, although he can play tempos as fast as anyone, he plays one of the most lyrical tenor solos ever recorded—nothing fast, just beautiful melody after beautiful melody. Then, as if to say, ‘I can do that too,’ for the last few measures he plays this breakneck double-time line as an exclamation point. Sonny isn’t trying to beat Coltrane at his own game; he’s just being himself, and it ends up being one of my favorite moments on record.”

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