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Saxophone Colossus - The Life And Music Of Sonny Rollins

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The book is out in a few days.



This long-awaited first full biography of legendary jazz saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins chronicles 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.
Based on more than 200 interviews with Rollins himself, family members, friends, and collaborators, as well as Rollins’ extensive personal archive, Saxophone Colossus is the comprehensive portrait of this living legend, tireless civil rights activist and environmentalist. A child of the Harlem Renaissance, Rollins’ precocious talent quickly landed him on the bandstand and in the recording studio with Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, or playing opposite Billie Holiday. He became an icon in his own right, recording fifteen albums as a leader in a staggering three-year span, including Tenor Madness, featuring 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.
Yet his meteoric rise to fame was not without its challenges. He served a ten-month sentence on Rikers Island and faced a battle with heroin addiction, which he eventually conquered after voluntary treatment at the “Narcotic Farm” in Lexington, Kentucky. 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 a 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 from 1971 until his retirement in 2012. 
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 told in the musicians’ own words, part chronicle of one man’s quest for social justice and spiritual enlightenment, 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.    


Edited by Hardbopjazz
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1 hour ago, HutchFan said:

I wonder if that's a typo... or if they're really announcing the book more than a year in advance?

I hope it's the former. I don't want to wait a whole year! 😉

I don't know but Amazon surely isn't showing that this is something they expect to have ready to ship in three days.

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I googled, but got no useful info. No recent personal posts (web page, social media), published a Rollins interview on Jazz Times site about a year ago but most Internet pages were updated in 2017 or so.

In the absence of any sample pages on publisher or Amazon websites, I'm inclined to believe the 2022, and such a projection would be prone to further delays IMO...

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  • 1 year later...

There was a review of the book in the December 2 WSJ.  I liked this:

At 92, owing to pulmonary fibrosis, Mr. Rollins is in “his final sabbatical,” his famously huge tone now silenced. Mr. Levy enlightens us most of all about the resilience behind that power, the well-honed technique and wild imagination with which it was employed, and the humility, perhaps more apparent now, at its core. “You’re here to make decisions,” Mr. Rollins tells a drummer in one of his last working bands. “And as long as the music feels good, you can do what you want. And if you think about it, you couldn’t be in a more privileged position.”

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30 pages in and greatly enjoying it so far. I love Sonny’s expressions of admiration for Louis Jordan (pg 22-23), and there’s a hilarious story about Sonny interrupting a lengthy dinnertime grace. Also a sort of theatrical/cosmic screenplay description from Sonny of why and how he fell in love with the saxophone. For such a big book Levy narrates and writes with a brisk economical pace—he nicely evokes the world and culture of early-20th-century Harlem that shaped Sonny. A bit of a bummer that the footnotes can only be accessed online (since I’m the kind of nerdy reader who goes down footnote rabbit-holes), but no quibble if that move allowed Levy to keep more of the story in the book… even without them this thing’s a *tome*, as which board member was it who loved to say? Anyway, it’s engaging me much the same way Kelley’s Monk bio did a few years back. 

Edited by ghost of miles
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