Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins

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Hachette Books, Dec 6, 2022 - Biography & Autobiography - 640 pages
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The long-awaited first full biography of legendary jazz saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins 

Sonny Rollins has long been considered an enigma. Known as the “Saxophone Colossus,” he is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest jazz improvisers of all time, winning Grammys, the Austrian Cross of Honor, Sweden’s Polar Music Prize and a National Medal of Arts. A bridge from bebop to the avant-garde, he is a lasting link to the golden age of jazz, pictured in the iconic “Great Day in Harlem” portrait. His 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 legendary saxophonist and composer, civil rights activist and environmentalist. A child of the Harlem Renaissance, Rollins’ precocious talent 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. An icon in his own right, he recorded Tenor Madness, featuring John Coltrane; Way Out West; Freedom Suite, the first civil rights-themed album of the hard bop era; A Night at the Village Vanguard; and the 1956 classic Saxophone Colossus. 

Yet his meteoric rise to fame was not without its challenges. He served two sentences on Rikers Island and won his battle with heroin addiction. In 1959, Rollins took a two-year sabbatical from recording and performing, practicing up to 16 hours a day on the Williamsburg Bridge. In 1968, he left again to study at an ashram in India. He 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 is the definitive biography of one of the most enduring and influential artists in jazz and American history.


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User Review  - pomo58 - LibraryThing

Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins, by Aidan Levy, is both a captivating biography of Rollins and an exciting history of the time from the depression until now. I enjoyed the ... Read full review


St Eustatius 18641930
Harlem 19301938
The Hill 19381944
The Street 19441946
Annapolis 1946
The Monastery of San Juan Hill 19461947
Goof Square 19471948
Sonny Meets Hawk 1963
Nows the Time 1964
Ronnie Scotts 1965
89 East Broadway 1966
Who Is Sonny Rollins? 1967
Sandeepany Sadhanalaya 1968
Musart 19691970
Satchmo Lovemo 1971

Professor Bop 19481949
Chicago via Montreal 1950
Birdland 1951
Carvin the Rock 1952
Collectors Items 19531954
Hackensack 1954
The Beehive 19541955
BrownRoach Incorporated 19551956
Saxophone Colossus 1956
I Remember Clifford 1956
Way Out West 1957
A Night at the Village Vanguard 1957
The Freedom Suite 1958
The Road 1958
Finding the Bridge 19591960
The Bridge 19601961
After the Bridge 19611962
Next Album 19721973
The Cutting Edge 19741975
The Way I Feel 19761977
Dont Stop the Carnival 19781979
The Stones 1980
Passing the Torch 19811983
Who by Fire 19841989
Heres to the People 19901996
Old Flames 19972012
The Big Picture and the Little Picture 2012

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About the author (2022)

Aidan Levy is the author of Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed and editor of Patti Smith on Patti Smith: Interviews and Encounters. A former Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellow, his writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, JazzTimes, and The Nation. 

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