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. Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, had been recording with Davis at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey (sessions that would later go on to provide material for the albums Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, and Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet). At the same time, and at the same studio, Rollins was working on the albums Sonny Rollins Plus 4 and Three Giants. As it was common at the time for jazz musicians recording in the same studio to record some sessions together, Rollins and Davis' group recorded together, though without Davis, material which later went on to be Tenor Madness.
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 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 Miles Davis Quintet bassist (and bassist on this album) 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.
Reception Professional ratings Review scores Source Rating Allmusic 4.5/5 stars
The Allmusic review by Michael G. Nastos calls the album "A recording that should stand proudly alongside Saxophone Colossus as some of the best work of Sonny Rollins in his early years, it's also a testament to the validity, vibrancy, and depth of modern jazz in the post-World War era. It belongs on everybody's shelf". Author and musician Peter Niklas Wilson called it "one of the most famous combo recordings of the 1950's"
All tracks by Sonny Rollins except where noted.
"Tenor Madness" - 12:16 "When Your Lover Has Gone" (Einar Aaron Swan) - 6:11 "Paul's Pal" - 5:12 "My Reverie" (Larry Clinton, Debussy) - 6:08 "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" (Rodgers, Hart) - 5:37
Sonny Rollins - Tenor Saxophone John Coltrane - Tenor Saxophone (#1 only) Philly Joe Jones - Drums Red Garland - Piano Paul Chambers - Bass