One of the best concerts ever given in the Netherlands was the performance by the American tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins (1930) at the Arnhem Academy of Art in 1967. “It was a musical eruption like never heard before and that probably never will happen again,” said saxophonist and jazz promoter Hans Dulfer, who was in the audience that night. Radio presenter and jazz connoisseur Michiel de Ruyter (1926-1994) recorded the music on a small device. Copies of these tapes have been circulating among jazz enthusiasts for years as proof that something special had taken place on Dutch soil.

Since 1980, the Dutch Jazz Archive has collected material that is important in the field of jazz history. Nobody thought it possible that more and better recordings of the gigs of Sonny Rollins and his Dutch accompanists drummer Han Bennink (1942) and bassist Ruud Jacobs (1938 – 2019) from May 1967 would pop up. But three years ago DJA researcher Frank Jochemsen stumbled upon a sound tape on which a saxophone player could be heard who had the unmistakably monumental sound of Sonny Rollins. The only information on the box read: “NCRV recordings.” Jochemsen contacted Ruud Jacobs and asked: “Was this your performance?” The bass player, who died last year, modestly answered: “I don’t think so, I didn’t play that well in those days.”

Bennink, Rollins and Jacobs
Bennink, Rollins and Jacobs

But Han Bennink was convinced after a few seconds: “This was our trio. The NCRV (broadcast company) made recordings.” Pianist and presenter Pim Jacobs (1934 – 1996) had arranged a studio session at the time, but these long pieces were never broadcast on radio. Jochemsen kept searching and found more interesting material like a TV recording from the Loosdrecht Go-Go Club.

Jochemsen realised that he had stumbled upon something valuable. Without Sonny Rollins’ permission, however, he could not do anything with this material. To his relief, the retired saxophonist replied enthusiastically: “I love these recordings and I loved playing with Han Bennink and Ruud Jacobs, I was very happy to have them there as my backup trio, it was almost a spiritual experience.” Rollins cancelled an upcoming release of another live album and persuaded the American Resonance Records to release these Dutch concerts. Eventually, it has become a collaborative project of the American label and the DJA. Rollins in Holland appeared as a triple LP and a double CD, including a hundred-page booklet with beautiful pictures and eyewitness reports.

Before the show
Before the show

In the sixties, a separation of minds took place in jazz. Han Bennink felt drawn towards the new, avant-garde music, Ruud Jacobs had more affinity with traditional jazz. However, the musical extremes found each other in their love for Sonny Rollins. Rollins and John Coltrane (1926 – 1967) were the two saxophone giants at the time. Coltrane had moved into the free jazz area. Rollins developed his own style, a combination of jazz and Caribbean influences. Rollins firm tone followed the melody, but he sprinkled catchy, rhythmically played bass and chord notes through his improvisations. Rollins preferred to play with bass and drums only, so that he had all the space he needed for his improvisations. The better the rhythm section, the closer he got to the boiling point. Bennink and Jacobs met Rollins just before their first performance; they had no time to practice. Rollins gave the starting signal by saying: “Let’s go.” The trio moved immediately on the right track. The Arnhem venue gradually turned into a musical pressure cooker. Benninks energetic drumming and Jacobs’ rich driving bass sound made 36-year-old Rollins soar. “I nearly cried,” Bennink said afterwards. Jacobs told years later that he had never had such a special musical experience again.

A CD or LP is at best a weak reflection of the moment, but Rollins in Holland is a valuable addition to the oeuvre of the 90-year-old ‘Saxophone Collossus’. Not least because Sonny Rollins did not make any other albums between 1966 and 1972.

Rollins in Holland

Sonny Rollins – Resonance Records / DJA

‘Tune Up’ (VARA Studio 5, Hilversum, the Netherlands, May 5, 1967):