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Jazz Great Sonny Rollins

(photo: sonnyrollins.com)

Jazz great Sonny Rollins was there when the masters were neighbors. When Coleman Hawkins walked Harlem. When Monk and Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell would pull up for a midnight jam.

And young Sonny — Theodore Walter Rollins — would pull out his tenor sax and paint the universe.

He was there for bebop and hard bop, with “Saxophone Colossus” and “The Bridge,” and wailing with the Rolling Stones. And he’s still playing, in his 80th year.

This hour, On Point: the last jazz immortal Sonny Rollins.


Sonny Rollins joins us from New Paltz, New York. A Grammy Award-winning tenor saxophonist and composer, he’s one of the biggest names in modern jazz. In a career spanning six decades, he’s performed with such greats as Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, and John Coltrane. He begins his “80th Birthday Tour” in April.

Bob Blumenthal, jazz critic who has written for Down Beat, Jazz Times, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, and The Atlantic. He holds two Grammy Awards for liner notes. He’s the author of “Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America’s Music.” His forthcoming book on Sonny Rollins will be out in September.

Upcoming dates for Sonny Rollins’ 80th Birthday tour include:

April 6     Orchestra Hall, Detroit, MI

April 9     Orchestra Hall, Chicago, IL

April 18   Symphony Hall, Boston, MA

May 10    Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA

May 13    Wheeler Auditorium, University of California, Berkeley, CA

May 16    Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA

May 19    Davis Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts Jackson Hall, Davis, CA

June 12   Discover Jazz Festival, Burlington, VT

June 23   Winnipeg Jazz Festival, Winnipeg, Canada

June 27  Montreal Jazz Festival, Montreal, Canada

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  • jeffe

    Sonny Rollins is one of the greatest jazz musicians in history of jazz. He is one of those rare musicians who you recognize from one note. That sound, oh that wonderful sound, the beautiful rich tenor sax tone that defines the art of the tenor saxophone that started with Coleman Hawkins, the other branch of this tenor tree is Lester Young. The other aspect of Sonny Rollins is his immense imagination and harmonic knowledge that enables him to deconstruct the tin pan alley tunes and the blues like know one else. He is a master, a living master of his instrument and art form.

    Some of my favorites: The Bridge, Way Out West, All of the Clifford Brown/Max Roach recordings with Sonny, The Village Vanguard recording, Saxophone Colossus, Freedom Suite, Road Shows to name a few.

  • Mark

    Thank you so much for featuring Mr. Rollins, a true American treasure.

    Jeffe, you really summed up my thoughts also on Sonny. The Clifford Brown/Max Roach/Sonny Rollins recordings are landmark.

    Again, thanks Tom for having Mr. Rollins on.

  • jeffe

    I forgot to mention one of the best sound tracks ever and one that defined a moment in time, early 60′s London, the movie Alfie (Michael Caine) was not only a very good film but it is even a better one due to Sonny Rollins and his band which included the great Jim Hall.

  • Doug

    Mr. Rollins is a true genius and certainly a jazz colossus. It’s fantastic to hear him on the show.

    That said, I don’t in any way want to take away from his achievements but as soon as I heard the tag line “the last jazz immortal” (I guess coined by the Village Voice) I had to hit your site and leave a comment.

    Certainly one of the last immortals, but while Ornette Coleman is still alive and kicking he’s not the only one. :)

    I hope they both keep playing for years to come!

  • jeffe

    I hear you Doug, but Sonny does not think like this, extremely humble. But he is the last of the great tenors of the post bop period. Benny Golson is still around, but I can’t think of to many others. Also his compositions are classics.

    I agree Ornette is up there, so is the late Michael Brecker
    Joe Lovano who I think takes from both Ornette, Sonny and Joe Henderson and is moving the horn and music forward.

  • Paul Pelan

    Dear Sonny,

    I love you and I love jazz! How concerned are you that most young people in the US know litle of this great art form and have litle cultural references in their lives?

  • troll doll

    Happy Birthday Sonny!
    Thanks you so much for your life and music. You have given us so much from you life, creativity, and soul. You have inspired me through my whole life, as an artist. You have inspired both the greatest and smallest of us. Thanks for your contribution to music and our society.
    Theere is someone playing tenor saxophone right outside my office window, (maybe not as skillfully) but it all continues on!

  • jeffe

    I hear you Doug, but Sonny does not think like this, extremely humble. But he is the last of the great tenors of the post bop period. Benny Golson is still around, but I can’t think of to many others. Also his compositions are classics.

    I agree Ornette is up there, so is the late Michael Brecker
    Joe Lovano who I think takes from both Ornette, Sonny and Henderson and is moving the horn and the music forward.

  • brian

    As a saxophone player and person, I am most thankful for the courage and life of your playing. It is so rare to hear anyone on the planet express themselves with as much will and singing joy and fearlessness as you do. Remembering particularly listening to Sonny Meets Hawk and a performance I saw you give at Newport in 2008. Keep doing it! When I hear you, more than anyone else, it makes me want to play.

  • Billy Bromage

    Don’t forget Yusef Lateef. Though he plays a large number of different instruments, he is also a wonderful tenor sax player.

    I have to give a lot of gratitude to Sonny for introducing me to jazz, when I borrowed Saxophone Colossus from the local library. He also introduced me to Clifford Brown, through their collaboration before Brownie’s premature death.

    Sonny is a legend!

  • Chip Graham

    I am loving the interview with Sonny!

    He has always been the definition of jazz to me, with intelligent improvisations and great tunes!

    Thanks for having on your show!

    Chip Graham

  • MM

    I agree with “jeffe”. Alfie soundtrack– one of the best records ever!!!!!

  • http://sueauclairpromotions.com Sue Auclair

    Thanks for the show. Shameless promotion of Sonny’s Boston concert April 18 is here: http://www.sueauclairpromotions.com/Sue_Auclair_Promotions/Sonny_Rollins_%40_Symphony_Hall.html

  • Tom

    There is no one that can match Sonny’s ability. He is the all time master on the tenor sax. I am looking forward to catching Sonny live again this year. As someone earlier posted, Sonny is “the last jazz immortal.” Thank God there is a Sonny Rollins. Many more years of creating wonderful music.

  • Brett

    Sonny Rollins is in the pantheon of the greats! I have listened to him since the mid 1960′s. I am also a jazz drummer and appreciate his sense of rhythm. He is neither wholly in the East Cost tradition (“HOT”) or the West Cost tradition (“COOL”) but more having one foot in the best of both! Thanks, On Point, and Tom, for the interview today!

  • http://www.whartoncenter.com Bryan J

    Thank you, Sonny, for your incredible contributions to music, jazz and saxophone all over the world.

    I have been a long-time fan of Sonny Rollins and studied saxophone for over a decade, so it was impossible to not revere Sonny for his legendary recordings. I have had the pleasure of seeing him twice, once at Duke University in the late 90′s (where I was but 2 rows away) and the second a few years later at UNC-Chapel Hill, my alma mater.

    Today still, among the many great recordings such as Saxophone Collosus, one of my all-time favorites is Dizzy Gillespie’s Sunny Side Up with Sonny Rollins & Sonny Stitt. Just incredible improvisations all the way around.

  • Brett


    While already up there, you went up a few notches on my respect scale for mentioning the great Jim Hall; he’s one of the great (and often over-looked) guitarists!

  • http://www.louisvillemusicnews.net Martin Z Kasdan Jr

    I have been fortunate enough to see Sonny Rollins several times over the past 30 or so years (I am 58), and was a serious fan long before my first concert. IMHO, he is the greatest living jazz saxophonist, which Mr. Rollins would no doubt humbly deny. This is not to debate the relative worth of Ornette Coleman or others whose work I also love, just a statement of my own personal feeling. As a jazz fan since my high school days (’69 grad), and a jazz writer for the last decade (moonlighting), Sonny Rollins is THE jazz artist to whose concert I would take a non-jazz fan as an example of the sustained emotion and improvisation of which jazz is capable.
    Thanks for all the great music!

  • http://www.lamentforastraightline.wordpress.com Jim Macnie

    always great to hear Rollins discuss himself. Here’s a chat i had with him a few years ago. http://bit.ly/1aBC8X

  • D Linke

    Like a drought finally relieved. your music coverage has been consistantly mundane and often juvenile.That being said…. THANK YOU!, THANK YOU !

  • Jeanne

    Enjoyed this program SO much. Thank you, and please feature performing artists more regularly in your program – it feeds our souls and fuels us for all the less pleasant topics in these difficult times.

  • Jessie

    In response to the apparent lack of young black men and women who are interested in jazz, and the concern that there is not a new up and coming generation of jazz musicians, I say that people need to check out Berklee College of Music in Boston. I am a recent graduate (class of 2009), and have witnessed and enjoyed first hand the immense jazz community that is thriving at the college, and the hundreds of extremely talented, young jazz musicians who are ready and waiting to make their way on to the jazz scene. Keep an ear out for some major talent coming out of Berklee!

  • Martin Milgrim

    Listening to the interview and 1/4 of the way through, I would like to correct a couple of spoken errors by T.A. While he mentions at one point that “Blue 7″ is being played, the cut is actually “You Don’t Know What Love Is”. Later he states that NEWK’S TIME is the first of Rollins’ Blue Note recordings, it actually is the last of the three studio dates he did for that label.

    Also, re an earlier comment by Jeffe, Jim Hall is not the guitarist on the ALFIE soundtrack; the orchestra on that date includes Kenny Burrell on guitar who does contribute wonderfully on that album.

  • jeffe

    Martin you’re right it is Kenny Burrell although in this period Jim Hall was in Rollin’s band. The arranger is the great Oliver Nelson.

  • jeffe

    Jessie you are right, Kenny Garret, Josh Redman, Mark Turner, David Sanchez (who is Puerto Rican), Branford Marsalis, Steve Wilson, Antonio Hart, Vincent Herring, Craig Handy to name few wonderful young and not so young saxophonist.

    The reality is that jazz has been a music with a small audience. Most jazz musicians sell in the 200,000 range for their recordings.

    I think it all comes down to education, but the other huge issue is places to play, there are few venues for musicians, especially young ones to come up and play and sit in with their elders. We just don’t have this kind of environment anymore. They go to Berklee, or other music colleges and this is where they get it together.
    It is shame however that there are not more venues all over the country for jazz.

  • Ray, England

    Many thanks to Sonny and all of you for a very good interview,full of good questions.thanks again.

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