Rollins and Coltrane had both been members of groups with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk in the past. Rollins had had some recent success, and both were emerging as prominent solo tenor saxophone players.
Two months prior to the session for Tenor Madness Rollins was working at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey on the album Sonny Rollins Plus 4 with Max Roach and Clifford Brown. And two weeks before, on May 11, Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, had been recording with Davis at the same studio to fulfill his duties for Prestige, sessions that would later go on to provide material for the albums Workin', Relaxin', and Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet.
Although the rhythm section's “playing here is somewhat less vital than on that session” (with Davis),the historical importance of Tenor Madness lies in the title track. It is the only existing recording with Rollins and Coltrane playing together.
The title track is a twelve-minute duet between Rollins and Coltrane, and the B-flat blues melody has become very well known for Rollins. It is easy to distinguish between the two saxophonists, as Coltrane has a much brighter and more boisterous sound as compared to Rollins' smoother, "wet-reed" tone. However, as jazz critic Dan Krow said, the two complement each other, and the track does not sound like a competition between the two rising saxophonists.
"Paul's Pal", a jumpy swing track, is a Rollins composition, named for bassist Paul Chambers. "When Your Lover Has Gone" is a 1931 composition by Einar Aaron Swan, re-interpreted here as a drum-driven blues track. The Clinton & Debussy ballad "My Reverie" is one of Rollins' most prominent examples of his lyrical skills from his 1950s' recordings. "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World", a tune from the 1935 musical Jumbo, is a Rodgers & Hart composition which goes here from a jazz waltz to a fast-paced 4/4 tune.
01. Tenor Madness. 12:16
02. When Your Lover Has Gone (Einar Aaron Swan) 6:11
03. Paul's Pal. 5:12
04. My Reverie(Larry Clinton, Debussy)6:08
05. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (Rodgers, Hart)5:37.
All tracks by Sonny Rollins except where noted
Sonny Rollins - Tenor Saxophone
John Coltrane - Tenor Saxophone (#1 only)
Red Garland - Piano
Paul Chambers - Bass
Philly Joe Jones - Drums.