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Hardbopjazz

Saxophone Colossus - The Life And Music Of Sonny Rollins

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This should be a good read. The hardcopy release date is February 2022. 

May be an image of 1 person and text that says 'AIDAN LEVY AUTHOR OF DIRTY BLVD.: THE LIFE ND MUSIC OF LOU REED Saxophone Colossus THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF Sonny Rollins'

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.

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From a review of the author's previous Lou Reed biography:

"First, it is not always an easy read because the author's style is really verbose, verging on self-indulgence at times. Levy can use three or four cultural references simultaneously without adding much to our understanding of the situation. For instance, writing on White Light White Heat (p. 141), he asserts: "in the postlapsarian world of the song, we only experience interconnectedness through the profound dislocation of the body and the mind. Yet despite the apparent futility of raging against the machine, Lou would keep trying to sing the body electric" and I have no idea what it is that he meant there."

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Any thoughts on this one?  I bought a cheap remainder copy of it years ago, but it sits on my selves unread:

41XACXDQVNL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

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4 hours ago, erwbol said:

From a review of the author's previous Lou Reed biography:

"First, it is not always an easy read because the author's style is really verbose, verging on self-indulgence at times. Levy can use three or four cultural references simultaneously without adding much to our understanding of the situation. For instance, writing on White Light White Heat (p. 141), he asserts: "in the postlapsarian world of the song, we only experience interconnectedness through the profound dislocation of the body and the mind. Yet despite the apparent futility of raging against the machine, Lou would keep trying to sing the body electric" and I have no idea what it is that he meant there."

I had to look up what "postlapsarian" meant and well, that's a really long time. Not to mention mythical. So that's a helluva strange way to connect how we listen to music today. Maybe there's a broader context I'm missing. Also baffled by singing the body electric...

However, this author, Levy, contributed to some excellent liner notes on that Resonance Rollins in Holland release so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here. 

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4 hours ago, erwbol said:

From a review of the author's previous Lou Reed biography:

"First, it is not always an easy read because the author's style is really verbose, verging on self-indulgence at times. Levy can use three or four cultural references simultaneously without adding much to our understanding of the situation. For instance, writing on White Light White Heat (p. 141), he asserts: "in the postlapsarian world of the song, we only experience interconnectedness through the profound dislocation of the body and the mind. Yet despite the apparent futility of raging against the machine, Lou would keep trying to sing the body electric" and I have no idea what it is that he meant there."

If that's an example of his writing style, I'll pass on this one.

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More examples on goodreads, like

Unlike nearly everything else in the mainstream, the Velvets refused to whitewash Marvin Gaye or Chuck Berry and suture the inchoate fragments into a palatable whole consistent with bourgeois repression, but as a result, they remained marginalized on the periphery of the hegemonic monoculture: it was the price of playing against the grain

or

He wanted the world immediately, and it came to him in an exhilarating adrenaline rush that obliterated all past and future concerns, as those bequeathed with that certain je ne sais quois known as stage presence often only feel truly alive on stage and die a little death when reality floods back in at the end of every performance.

... I do agree that the Rollins in Holland liner notes are ok most of the time... he is also using words like "riposte" or "prognostication" there but from the context it is usually clear what he means... after all, these are just liner notes for Sonny Rollins album... still, as a non-native speaker, I am pretty sure I'll pass on this one as well

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58 minutes ago, bresna said:

If that's an example of his writing style, I'll pass on this one.

+1

Pity considering the subject matter ...

 

BTW, to the author: if you HAVE to quote French (for effect's sake), make dead sure you are quoting it correctly. It is "quoi", not "quois".  Talk about going out on a limb ...

 

 

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1 hour ago, bresna said:

If that's an example of his writing style, I'll pass on this one.

+1

(And if he has no serious prior knowledge of jazz I'd be even more disinclined. Those are the kinds of books that perpetuate a lot of horseshit.)

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4 minutes ago, Big Beat Steve said:

+1

Pity considering the subject matter ...

 

BTW, to the author: if you HAVE to quote French (for effect's sake), make dead sure you are quoting it correctly. It is "quoi", not "quois".  Talk about going out on a limb ...

 

 

to the author's credit, that typo was introduced by the person who wrote the review (and evidently didn't know enough French to fully appreciate Levy's writing). Here is a longer excerpt from that Reed bio which includes this passage....

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OK, good for the author, shame on the reviewer.

The excerpt seems a bit more "tangible" though I wonder how many listeners there ever were at a concert like that who felt they were in a "conformist lockstep" that needed to be "broken". ;)

Anyway, without wanting to advocate simplistic writing that doesn't do the subject matter justice, I think I've had enough reads where I had to wade through the show-offiness of the author whose main messages seemed to be "see how many oddball words I know and can use instead of straightforward ones that get the message across too easily" and "don't expect me to write a book for just music lovers - my sole target audience is my academic peers - and then on up from there ..." :lol:

 

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1 hour ago, felser said:

Any thoughts on this one?  I bought a cheap remainder copy of it years ago, but it sits on my selves unread:

41XACXDQVNL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

It's useful but infuriating. Read it with that in mind.

Ultimately, it was not the book I was looking for.

25 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:

(And if he has no serious prior knowledge of jazz I'd be even more disinclined. Those are the kinds of books that perpetuate a lot of horseshit.)

aka Ken Burns Effect

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Not thinking of Burns specifically ... other "popular music" writers who take a shot at a jazz book or bio that just betrays their ignorance.

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It's all the same thing. People project their reality onto somebody else's story, something always gets left out or misrepresented...I no longer look for too much besides did they get the facts right and did they talk to the principal party and/or close associates if possible. If not....uh-oh.

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Posted (edited)

11 minutes ago, JSngry said:

I no longer look for too much besides did they get the facts right and did they talk to the principal party and/or close associates if possible. If not....uh-oh.

True and reasonable in today's publishing world. But do they really grasp the feel and essence of the specific style of music and its enviromnent, then? Particularly if you have to go back a bit further in history. Some are good at it (and sympathetic), some (much) less so ...

IMO there are too many music books out there that reek of the author's "Hey I can write about THAT musician /THAT style of music too!" attitude to further his own cause.

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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I know the music well enough to feel if they have a feel, and then, let the feels begin!

Some books are useful for data, and that includes quotes from sources. I have learned to not expect more than that (and that it be accurate). Anything else is a bonus. And if too many "conclusions" are drawn about what it "means"...if I can call bullshit, I will. If not...

Trust has to be earned, at least as much when engaging with the written word as in real life, off the page. Real people can be fluid, but words on a page don't move.

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Posted (edited)

On 6/22/2021 at 10:39 AM, Big Beat Steve said:

+1

Pity considering the subject matter ...

 

BTW, to the author: if you HAVE to quote French (for effect's sake), make dead sure you are quoting it correctly. It is "quoi", not "quois".  Talk about going out on a limb ...

 

 

Where do you see this?

Edited by bertrand

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Posted (edited)

OK guys, I can't say I'm really that familiar with his writing style but I met the author at the Schomburg when we were both going through Sonny's archives stored there. 

I know he talked to Sonny a lot and did a lot of research. When we talked about all things Sonny, he did seem to have some knowledge on the subject so from the research side of things, this should be good. I believe he is/was a saxophone player not that that matters much but I think he has more of a back round in Jazz then a Lou Reed bio might imply. He is well versed on the subject, that is for sure but as I said, I can't speak on his writing style yet but I think this will be the most thorough bio we've had on Sonny and that is probably a good thing. 

 

Edited by david weiss

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Thanks for that, David. Appreciate it, a bit of faith restored!

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1 hour ago, david weiss said:

I know he talked to Sonny a lot and did a lot of research. When we talked about all things Sonny, he did seem to have some knowledge on the subject so from the research side of things, this should be good.

I remember seeing his name and that he was working on a Sonny bio. After reading those Holland show liners I was motivated to buy his book whenever it was published. I'm not a Lou Reed fan so I haven't read that bio and don't have any other exposure to his writing. The Reed stuff isn't inspiring but again, benefit of the doubt. Could be great, could be trash, or any place in between. 

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I'm an academic, and this kind of pretentious academic style makes me scream (and not with delight).

 

 

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Posted (edited)

If I can check out a copy via interlibrary loan*, will do so. Won't purchase, though.

*Not that unlikely; only last week I finished Sites's Sun Ra in Chicago. Searched for the title on a whim, not expecting to find it, but a brand new  hardcover came in through ILL.

Edited by T.D.

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11 hours ago, bertrand said:

Where did you find this grotesque error?

See yesterday's exchange with Niko.

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17 hours ago, Big Beat Steve said:

See yesterday's exchange with Niko.

I see it now.

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On 6/23/2021 at 8:24 PM, Milestones said:

I'm an academic, and this kind of pretentious academic style makes me scream (and not with delight).

 

 

ditto. 

I love White Light White Heat -- one of the best records ever made -- and also it's fairly unpretentious and doesn't deserve such overwrought pontification.

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