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Richard Corsello, Sonny Rollins’ Go-To Engineer

How he transformed subpar source recordings into Rollins' triumphant "Road Shows" series

Engineer Richard Corsello

The four volumes of Sonny Rollins’ Road Shows are the most important archival jazz releases of the new millennium. Until Vol. 1 appeared in 2008, our greatest living jazz musician had not issued a representative recording in 40 years. The Road Shows albums finally documented what his devoted fans had been avowing for years: that on his greatest nights in concert, Rollins could reach transcendence, a realm beyond music. The tenor saxophone solo on the very first track of the series, “Best Wishes,” is maniacal and sublime. Rollins powers through its 12-bar form 35 times in eight minutes, in waves, in towering arcs. And he’s just warming up. There are 28 more tracks to come.

Yet Road Shows is a crapshoot. It spans 33 years, nine countries and 21 different ensembles. Most of the material comes from sonically problematic sources like soundboard tapes, cassettes, airchecks and audience recordings. The person who made these albums publishable is engineer Richard Corsello, who has been with Rollins since the late 1970s. For Road Shows, Corsello’s responsibilities included recording, editing, mixing, assembly, coproduction and “sound design.” He spent hundreds of hours in his home studio cleaning up the original “work tapes.”

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