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Today in Music – 1930 – “Saxophone Colossus” Sonny Rollins is born!!


Sonny Rollins'So while today is a sad day for the rock world, losing Keith Moon, it is a happy day for the jazz world, because on this day in 1930 Sonny Rollins, the “Saxophone Colossus” was born! From his biography page at his website:

Theodore Walter Rollins was born on September 7, 1930 in New York City. He grew up in Harlem not far from the Savoy Ballroom, the Apollo Theatre, and the doorstep of his idol, Coleman Hawkins. After early discovery of Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, he started out on alto saxophone, inspired by Louis Jordan. At the age of sixteen, he switched to tenor, trying to emulate Hawkins. He also fell under the spell of the musical revolution that surrounded him, Bebop.


He began to follow Charlie Parker, and soon came under the wing of Thelonious Monk, who became his musical mentor and guru. Living in Sugar Hill, his neighborhood musical peers included Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew and Art Taylor, but it was young Sonny who was first out of the pack, working and recording with Babs Gonzales, J.J. Johnson, Bud Powell and Miles Davis before he turned twenty.


“Of course, these people are there to be called on because I think I represent them in a way,” Rollins said recently of his peers and mentors. “They’re not here now so I feel like I’m sort of representing all of them, all of the guys. Remember, I’m one of the last guys left, as I’m constantly being told, so I feel a holy obligation sometimes to evoke these people.”  Continue Reading

leeding gums murphySome of you who don’t know Sonny may have seen his cartoon self, in The Simpsons Episode 6 Season 1, as jazz musician Bleeding Gums Murphy playing the saxophone on a bridge in the middle of the night, a reference to Rollins playing alone on the Williamsburg Bridge! I

Mark Jacobson has a great story Sonny Rollins, the Colossus in Men’s Journal in that piece Rollins talks about the making of the Simpson episode::

 Sonny played a holographic image of himself that hovers, godlike, outside the bedroom window of perhaps his best-known mainstream musical disciple, Lisa Simpson. Sonny had three lines, which he dutifully repeated over and over again, coached by a voice on a speakerphone originating 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles. Later, Sonny said that taking all morning to produce a hologram visible only to a TV cartoon character was “kind of strange,” especially for someone who’d managed to cut albums like Tenor Madness and Saxophone Colossus in a few short hours on a two-track machine located in Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack, New Jersey, studio.
“Technology, man,” Sonny said with a shrug. “All this little stuff interrupts my chain of thought. Consequently, I haven’t been able to properly practice my horn the way I have to,” he said, emerging from the laundry room in a loose-fitting khaki shirt, a pair of baggy gray sweatpants, and thick white socks stuffed into open-toe leather slippers. “If I don’t get to practice, work on my embouchure and scales, then I can’t play correctly, and if I can’t play correctly, I can’t work out my ideas, and if I can’t work out my ideas, then I go crazy.

Practice, man we’re talking about practice, and at 82 Sonny stills does it three hours per day!

Here’s some more about those bridge years from Men’s Journal article. Through the years…..

Many jazz fans have always suspected that Sonny’s sabbatical on the Williamsburg Bridge was all about kicking drugs, but the musician says that’s not so. “I wasn’t using then. That was only about the music. These young guys like Ornette Coleman and Coltrane were coming up. I told myself, ‘Sonny, you better get your shit together, because these cats have something to say.” When Sonny came back from the bridge, the expectation among the ever-messianic-minded jazz community was that he would return, like Aeneas from the pit, bearing a hitherto wholly unheard soundscape, a wig-stretching concept that might push the so-called new thing “free jazz” into the stratosphere. As it was, his first post-hiatus record, The Bridge – a lustrous, diamond-like piece of work now regarded as among his finest efforts – sounded remarkably like the Sonny Rollins everyone knew. Once the leading-edge hero, now Sonny was being called conventional, even old-fashioned. At 32, he seemed a relic of a bygone era.


Many conjectured that the advent of Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” had gotten into Sonny’s head, messed with his ever-present insecurities about where he stood in jazz’s eternal cutting contest.


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So Sonny, we thank you for all the great music, most of which I still have to explore, Saxophone Colossus is in my library and little else! Now there are lots of great jazz standards that I could have chosen as am afternoon video, but I listened this morning to his cover of the song “Tennessee Waltz” and thought it was great – I hope you all agree!!