Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus

Tenor saxophone giant, Sonny Rollins, turned 81 on September 7. Last week, he turned in a short but hard-swinging set at UCLA’s Royce Hall. After running through about seven songs, he finished up with “Don’t Stop the Carnival”,  and his word was my command. My Sonny Rollins Weekend began with his Friday appearance on the Tavis Smiley show. Saturday I cleaned the house to the tune of Saxophone Colossus (great for me, though probably not so interesting for you)On Sunday, I reflected on something the giant of Harlem jazz had said on Thursday, about trying versus doing (or was it  doing versus trying?), while presumably he was trying to do what he’s done so many nights before, somewhere on the road to infinity.

Starting with Miles, Monk and Max Roach, Rollins took his own giant step toward direct political and musical fusion on Freedom Suite, the 1958 album on which he was accompanied by bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Roach. “The Freedom Suite,” a nearly 20 minute piece, was the first jazz instrumental to claim social issues as its inspiration.  “America is deeply rooted in Negro culture.  It’s colloquialisms, its humor, its music.  How ironic that the Negro, who more than any other people can claim America’s culture as his own is being persecuted and repressed.  That the Negro who has represented the humanities in his very existence is being rewarded with inhumanity,” wrote Rollins on the album’s original sleeve notes.

Last year, Rollins received the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama. This year, on December 4, he’ll receive his Kennedy Center Honors. Congratulations, Sonny Rollins: Keep on Swinging.

[youtube.com/watch?v=-2wOQaxhkA4]

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