Autmn Nocturne

Sonny Rollins

date: 1978
style: hard bop
form: 32-bar popular song (AABA)

personnel:

Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophone;

Introduction

0:00
Rollins begins improvising, top-speed, in the key of F major, ending with a descending run. In the abrupt silence that follows, one can hear murmurs of audience conversation.

0:08
Still warming up, Rollins plays fragments, some short, others lengthy.

0:18
Modulating to B-flat major, Rollins begins to play the opening melody of "Autumn Nocturne."

0:26
The melody begins to lose rhythmic momentum in softer, disjointed passagework, finally running down to a loud, squawky note.

0:29
Rollins begins a new phrase with a bold, upward statement.

0:32
He then uses that phrase in sequence: shifting it to the key of E-flat major. As he reaches for upper notes, his tone is deliberately thin and strained.

0:40
A new phrase modulates to D-flat major, ending with a sonorous low note.

0:44
Rollins plays a simple, melodic phrase.

0:48
Faster passagework falls into a descending chromatic scale, which lands on a new note, suggesting yet another modulation.

0:52
In the new key of D major, Rollins rapidly repeats a short melodic pattern.

0:55
Rollins abruptly modulates back to D-flat major, still repeating the pattern.

0:59
In the spirit of the original melody, Rollins plays in an earnest, romantic style.

1:09
Suddenly returning to B-flat major, Rollins once again plays the opening melody to "Autumn Nocturne."

1:22
Rollins plays with a triad, moving it up and down experimentally. Sensing that the introduction is now going into overdrive, the audience begins to applaud and cheer.

1:28
The harmony becomes more "outside," with a descending melodic sequence built on the interval of a fourth.

1:31
Rollins returns to a simpler style of melody.

1:41
Rollins moves into uncertain harmonic territory before returning to B-flat major.

1:58
Rollins suddenly shifts to a simple riff, played with greater volume and timbre intensity.

2:01
He speeds up, repeating the riff, until the audience shouts its approval.

2:07
Rollins fastens onto a two-note motive, which he follows downward in a scale that modulates to the key of D major.

2:16
A faster passage modulates up a half-step to E-flat major.

2:23
After an even faster passage, Rollins lands in F major. He quotes a phrase that sounds as if quoted from "Today" by Randy Sparks ("I'll be a dandy and I'll be a rover").

2:29
Rollins holds a note and distorts it before moving to much faster material.

2:49
Using melodic sequence, Rollins modulates down to E-flat major, where he plays more bluesy material.

2:59
A much faster passage moves through unsettled harmonies.

3:05
Rollins plays a melodic sequence: each time the melody is repeated, the last note of the melody descends a half step.

3:25
Passing through yet another key, Rollins once again holds and distorts a note.

3:31
Settling into F major, Rollins ironically begins to quote "Home Sweet Home."

3:39
After playing a single note, Rollins awkwardly answers it with a verbal squawk. He repeats the gesture, drawing yet more cheers from the crowd.

3:42
Once again, Rollins moves into a bluesy mode.

3:59
Rollins begins to move down the chromatic scale. The notes become increasingly detached and accelerate in speed.

4:04
As the timbre of the notes becomes more distorted, the line reaches bottom and turns back upward.

4:11
Rollins settles into a slow, deliberate tempo, which becomes a cue for the band to enter.

Chorus One (32-bar AABA form)

4:18
A
As the audience roars its approval, Rollins plays the melody of "Autumn Nocturne" with fiercely distorted timbre. By playing the beat clearly, the rhythm section makes it easier to hear the subtleties of Rollins' rhythmic gestures.

4:36
Off to the side, the electric guitar adds chords.

4:40
As the harmonic progression reaches the turnaround (the two-bar conclusion to an eight-bar phrase), Rollins launches into an extremely fast, dissonant, and heavily distorted passage.

4:45
A
Once again, Rollins returns to playing the melody.

4:54
Rollins focuses his line on a single note, decorating it with neighbor notes.

5:07
The last phrase becomes lost in an ecstatic, dissonant passage.

5:13
B
The bridge begins in a new key, with Rollins returning to the melody.

5:17
For several measures, the bass suggests a double-time rhythmic feeling.

5:27
The tune modulates to a new key. Rollins's improvisation becomes more earnest and impassioned.

5:35
As the tune begins to modulate back to the original key, Rollins plays another impossibly fast and distorted passage.

5:40
The drums signal the return with a drum roll.

5:41
A
Rollins begins on the melody, but instead of rising (at 5:45), the melodic line begins to descend.

5:50
Rollins's line rises, reaching a brief climax at 5:51.

5:54
As the tune nears its last few bars, the drummer begins playing the cymbals more intently.

5:59
The drummer plays a strong polyrhythm, augmenting it in the next measure by adding bass drum strokes.

Coda

6:07
A three-note rhythm ends the tune. All the musicians play their instruments simultaneously.

6:19
Seeming to have a few more notes in mind, Rollins tries to squeeze them out.

6:21
Finally, over a long saxophone tremolo, the tune ends and the audience applauds.

Copyright W.W. Norton