Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins

Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins

by Aidan Levy
Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins

Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins

by Aidan Levy


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**Winner of the American Book Award (2023)**

​**Longlisted for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award (2023)**

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780306902796
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 12/06/2022
Pages: 784
Sales rank: 362,894
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.40(d)

About the Author

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. 

Table of Contents

Part 1

Chapter 1 St. Eustarius (1864-1930) 3

Chapter 2 Harlem (1930-1938) 9

Chapter 3 The Hill (1938-1944) 24

Chapter 4 The Street (1944-1946) 45

Chapter 5 Annapolis (1946) 45

Chapter 6 The Monastery of San Juan Hill (1946-1947) 72

Chapter 7 Goof Square (1947-1948) 85

Chapter 8 Professor Bop (1948-1949) 103

Chapter 9 Chicago via Montreal (1950) 118

Chapter 10 Birdland (1951) 127

Chapter 11 Carvin' the Rock (1952) 152

Chapter 12 Collectors' Items (1953-1954) 158

Chapter 13 Hackensack (1954) 172

Chapter 14 The Beehive (1954-1955) 180

Chapter 15 Brown-Roach Incorporated (1955-1956) 196

Chapter 16 Saxophone Colossus (1956) 219

Chapter 17 I Remember Clifford (1956) 227

Chapter 18 Way Out West (1957) 247

Chapter 19 A Night at the Village Vanguard (1957) 266

Chapter 20 The Freedom Suite (1958) 283

Chapter 21 The Road (1958) 307

Chapter 22 Finding the Bridge (1959-1960) 317

Chapter 23 The Bridge (1960-1961) 339

Part 2

Chapter 24 After the Bridge (1961-1962) 363

Chapter 25 Sonny Meets Hawk (1963) 393

Chapter 26 Now's the Time (1964) 422

Chapter 27 Ronnie Scott's (1965) 442

Chapter 28 89 East Broadway (1966) 463

Chapter 29 Who Is Sonny Rollins? (1967) 484

Chapter 30 Sandeepany Sadhanalaya (1968) 499

Chapter 31 Musart (1969-1970) 511

Chapter 32 Satchmo Love-mo (1971) 523

Chapter 33 Next Album (1972-1973) 533

Chapter 34 The Cutting Edge (1974-1975) 552

Chapter 35 The Way I Feel (1976-1977) 568

Chapter 36 Don't Stop the Carnival (1978-1979) 583

Chapter 37 The Stones (1980) 600

Chapter 38 Passing the Torch (1981-1983) 613

Chapter 39 Who by Fire (1984-1989) 634

Chapter 40 Here's to the People (1990-1996) 662

Chapter 41 Old Flames (1997-2012) 682

Chapter 42 The Big Picture and the Little Picture (2012-) 707

Acknowledgments 717

Notes 727

Index 729

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