Tenor saxophonist reflects on a career spanning more than 65 years
Sonny-Rollins-with-Mohawk-by-Lee-Tanner.jpg
Sonny Rollins

One of the last in a generation of jazz greats, Sonny Rollins once thought music could change the world. His optimism about humanity has since vanished but, at 85, he still has much he wants to say.

The “Saxophone Colossus”, a nickname that was also the title of his seminal 1956 album, is among a handful of sax players including John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins who defined the instrument, with Rollins creating a heavy-charging, mordant style that was also readily experimental.

The hard-working tenor saxophonist has taken several extended sabbaticals, most famously when he temporarily retired – yet would practice on New York’s Williamsburg Bridge. He later moved to India and Japan to explore spirituality. (more…)

Alex Belth introduces a profile of the jazz singer taken from Jazz Is
billie-holiday.jpg
Billie Holiday

When I first started listening to jazz I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know how I’d ever be able to tell the difference between Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, didn’t know how I’d ever determine the difference between John Coltrane and someone imitating Coltrane. I’m still an amateur but I can tell you this: the first performers I could identify by ear were Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, and Billie Holiday. Their sound is so specific, so singular, that even to the untrained ear, they are identifiable.

We’re lucky that Nat Hentoff was on hand to record so much of the Jazz scene in the ’50s and ’60s, and here he cuts through the popular mythology that often obscures Holiday’s great talent and shows us the depth of her musical gift. [Read More]

Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
An excerpt from a 2011 interview with Chris Richards (The Washington Post)

Mature, precocious, cultured and determined. Aside from a few summers in Maryland, Rollins spent his childhood in Harlem, a cultural epicenter that would shape him into a jazz icon who would steer the trajectory of the genre and the concept of improvisation writ large. As Rollins looks back, the chapters of his life often slice into neat little halves — separate realities where he toggled between success and struggle, renown and solitude. He apprenticed with the bop gods (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis) while battling the dark forces of addiction. At his highest levels of acclaim, he took mysterious sabbaticals that felt like vanishing acts. Today, Rollins says he gets through “this world full of problems” by reaching for higher spiritual plateaus that he “can almost touch,” but never quite does. (more…)