What’s It All About Sonny?

Jazz. I mean, where do you start? You might have heard a bit of Chet Baker, Miles Davis and Coltrane and then what?

Well, in the early 1980s you walked in shops like Moles or Ray’s or similar emporiums and were faced with racks and racks of  ‘where do I start?’ vinyl. One way of picking my way through all that was in front of me was to check out the soundtracks of films that I liked.

More often than not, those of that genre from the 1960s were written and recorded by many jazz aficionados in their prime, such as Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin.

One that I picked up on early was the soundtrack to the 1966 film ‘Alfie’ for which Bill Naughton wrote the script, and Lewis Gilbert directed

The music was written and performed by the legend that is Sonny Rollins. This one was a win/win as far as I was concerned. I absolutely adored the film, so to then have this quality of music to investigate further was simply wonderful.

Rollins had pitched up in London roughly a year earlier and recorded over four days – namely the 18th 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th of October ‘65 – for the spotters among you.  He used top local talent such as Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, Stan Tracey and Phil Seamen to record eleven minutes of mainly improvised music, literally playing along to the film as it ran on a big screen at Twickenham film Studios.

Only later was I to discover the amount of confusion around the recordings. For example, all the music is credited to Rollins, though the tune ‘Little Malcolm Loves his Dad’ is often acknowledged to be have been written by Stan Tracey, and who is actually playing on what on the soundtrack?

The last question was raised, because three months after the London sessions, Rollins walked into Englewood Cliffs, the studio of Rudy Van Gelder in New Jersey to in effect re-record what he had written, expanding on it under the production of Bob Thiele and arrangements of Oliver Nelson. Musicians used on THISsession included J.J Johnson, and Kenny Burrell, names of the highest order in the annuls of jazz music. There is no padding on the 30 minutes they came up with. It is simply sublime.

I have heard it said, that the original music recorded by Scott and Hayes etc. can be still heard on the film, but is mainly used under dialogue as incidental music.

Added on top of all of this, is the title song ‘Alfie’ penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. ‘Our Cilla’ first recorded a version with a 50-piece orchestra put together by George Martin at the Abbey Road studios, with Burt conducting.

It was a top ten hit in the UK charts when released, but flopped in the US. So, the film company Paramount decided to get Cher in to re record it, with Sonny Bono producing and that is the version heard over the titles of the film.

Director Lewis Gilbert, a massive jazz fan, is said to have never understood the need for a ‘pop’ tune to be added to the work of Rollins, but as ever, those in control of the budget, won the day.

The Rollins album was first released in the UK in 1966 as ‘Sonny Plays Alfie’ on the HMV label, before then being re-released as ‘Alfie’ on Impulse! in the States, laterin the same year.

Every now and then, I play the album and it still stands up very nicely. For me, this is more a jazz album with a film attached.

It really is that good. Highly recommended

The Mumper of SE5