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Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins

Author: Levy, Aidan

Publication Date:  November 14, 2023
Format: Paperback

The Long-awaited First Full Biography Of Legendary Jazz Saxophonist And Composer Sonny Rollins, Chronicling The Gripping Story Of A Freedom Fighter And Spiritual Seeker Whose Life Has Been As Much Of A Thematic Improvisation As His Music Sonny Rollins Has Long Been Considered An Enigma. Known As The Saxophone Colossus, He Is Widely Acknowledged As The Greatest Living Jazz Improviser, Having Won Grammys, The Austrian Cross Of Honor, Sweden''s Polar Music Prize And A National Medal Of Arts From President Barack Obama. He Is One Of Our Last Links To The Golden Age Of Jazz--one Of Only Two Remaining Musicians Pictured In The Iconic Great Day In Harlem Portrait. His Colossal Seven-decade Career Has Been Well Documented, But The Backstage Life Of The Man Once Called The Only Jazz Recluse Has Gone Largely Untold--until Now. Saxophone Colossus Introduces Us To The Man Behind The Myth. Based On More Than 200 Interviews With Rollins Himself, Family Members, Friends And Collaborators, As Well As Rollins'' Extensive Personal Archive, It Is The Comprehensive Portrait Of This Living Legend, Tireless Civil Rights Activist And Environmentalist. A Depression-era Child Of The Harlem Renaissance, Rollins'' Precocious Talent Quickly Landed Him On The Bandstand Or In The Recording Studio With Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, The Clifford Brown-max Roach Quintet, Abbey Lincoln And Dizzy Gillespie. He Soon Became An Icon In His Own Right, Recording Fifteen Albums Under His Own Name In A Staggering Three-year Span--including Tenor Madness, Featuring A Blues Battle With John Coltrane; Way Out West, Which Established The Pianoless Trio; Freedom Suite, The First Civil Rights-themed Album Of The Hard Bop Era; A Night At The Village Vanguard, Which Put The Storied Jazz Venue On The Map; And The 1956 Classic Saxophone Colossus, Credited For Introducing Calypso To Jazz With St. Thomas. He Was Even More Prolific On The Bandstand, Performing Everywhere From Minton''s Playhouse To Carnegie Hall, Paris''s Olympia Theatre To Tokyo''s Kosei Nenkin Kaikan, Making The Occasional Impromptu Appearance At A Gritty Downtown Loft. Yet His Meteoric Rise To Fame Was Not Without Its Challenges. Early On, He Served A Ten-month Sentence On Rikers Island And Faced A Battle With Heroin Addiction That Threatened To Derail His Career. After Voluntarily Entering The U.s. Public Health Service Hospital In Lexington, Kentucky, He Beat His Addiction And Came Back Stronger. Willing To Sacrifice Fame, In 1959, Rollins Began A Two-year Sabbatical From Recording And Performing, Practicing Up To 16 Hours A Day On The Williamsburg Bridge, Which Has Since Inspired An Ongoing Campaign To Rename The Bridge In His Honor. In 1968, He Took Another Sabbatical To Study At An Ashram In India. With The Help Of His Wife And Manager Lucille, Rollins Returned To Performing In 1971, And Never Left Until His Retirement In 2012. The Course Of His Life, Much Like His Improvisations, Vacillates Between Revelatory Triumph And Sisyphean Struggle, Sudden Bursts Of Brilliance And Unexpected Silences, With Never A Dull Moment In Between. The Story Of Sonny Rollins--innovative, Unpredictable, Larger Than Life--is The Story Of Jazz Itself, And Sonny''s Own Narrative Is As Timeless And Timely As The Art Form He Represents. Part Jazz Oral History From The 1940s To The Present Told In The Musicians'' Own Words, Part Chronicle Of One Man''s Quest For Social Justice And Spiritual Enlightenment, Part Guidebook On What It Means To Be An American Original, This Exhaustively Researched Account Pulses With The Rhythm And Pathos Of A Literary Novel And The Depth And Insight Of A Serious Scholarly Study. This Is The Definitive Biography Of One Of The Most Enduring And Influential Artists In Jazz And American History.