President Obama digs Sonny Rollins

President Barack Obama paid beautiful lip service to great American artists and arts yesterday, conferring the 2010 National Medal of Arts and Humanities on heroes including Sonny Rollins, age 80. "I speak personally here," said the president at 3 minutes, 30 seconds into his address, alluding to authors, poets, historians, "because there are people here whose works shaped me. I've got these thumbworn editions of these works of arts, and these old records from when they were still vinyl, Sonny, before they went digital, that helped inspire me, … [Read more...]

Jazz elders cast giant shadows

Why isn't the amazing current generation of creative (jazz) musicians better known? Maybe because major artists of the not-so-distant past are practicing the art form at splendid peaks, overturning clichés about dwindling powers of octogenarians. Read my column in City Arts New York for a report that touches on Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes and Muhal Richard Abrams, who tower over the start of the fall 2010 season. Subscribe by Email or RSS All JBJ posts … [Read more...]

If videos of Sonny are removed, will the legend grow?

Gone from Youtube are two brief but vivid excerpts from Sonny Rollins' 80th birthday concert at the Beacon Theater on Sept. 10 -- one showing the great tenor saxophonist in duet with percussionist Sammy Figueroa, the second documenting the surprise, climactic contributions of Ornette Coleman to the set, and Rollins' inspired improvised responses. What a shame! -- from at least one perspective. Or should those visuals never have been made public without the artists' permissions?  … [Read more...]

Video for fans of Sonny Rollins & harmolodics

Too good to not post: Ornette Coleman was surprise guest with Sonny Rollins at his fast-become-famous Beacon Theater 80th birthday party on September 10 (backstage there was birthday cake shaped like a saxophone, made of marzipan). Note SR's quote at about 10 minutes in of "I'll Take Manhattan," which he certainly did. [[As of 9/15/2010 this video has been removed from Youtube by it's "user." Research will follow.  … [Read more...]

Sonny @ Beacon bootlegged video clip

A bootlegged video excerpt of Sonny Rollins at the Beacon Theater, 9/10/2010 is available on youtube -- the sound doesn't do him justice, and I don't intend to encourage unauthorized video, but it is out there to give the world a brief idea of last night's concert. On the other hand, Bret Primack, the Jazz Video Guy, has been working long and hard on, for and with Sonny, and I embed below a clip from the end of a performance of "Tenor Madness" from Antibes, 2005, which is auhorized to be on the … [Read more...]

Sonny the sax king

At age 80, Sonny Rollins is indisputably the greatest living jazz tenor saxophonist, proved last night throughout a 2-hour set at New York's sold-out Beacon Theater in which harmolodic sage Ornette Coleman sat in, backed by drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Christian McBride, on "Tenor Madness."  "Sonnymoon For Two". Rollins was hunched and hobbled when he came onstage, but once he started blowing he stood upright and blasted his big bold sound with energy that brooked no diminishment of strength or inspiration, bending only to fire … [Read more...]

Why of the Jazz Journalists Assn’s Jazz Awards

Why give Jazz Awards? See my new column in City Arts re the event Monday 6/14 at City Winery in NYC, produced by the Jazz Journalists Assoc. (Full disclosure: I'm deeply involved -- as left, last year presenting Kurt Elling his statuette for Best Male Vocalist, photo by Enid Farber. See us this year, streaming live video online at, with satellite parties in Albuquerque, Berkeley, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Scottsdale, and tweeting using the hashtag #jjajazzawards) … [Read more...]

Zx1 pocket camera stars at 2009 Jazz Awards!

I love My Youtube! -- now hosting video clips from my handy new Kodak go-anywhere device of jazz celebs, players and presenters at the Jazz Journalists Association's 13th annual Jazz Awards party at the Jazz Standard (NYC) June 16, shot by debuting cinematographer R. Mandel.Brief bits of Hank Jones, the Charles Tolliver Big Band, Jane Bunnett's Spirits of Havana, flutist Frank Wess, trombonist Roswell Rudd, Blue Note's Bruce Lundvall, singers Mark Murphy and Kurt Elling. A worthy Jazz Foundation pitch and SESAC toasts all the … [Read more...]

Al Green and Sonny Rollins, now and then

Al Green, age 62, won two Grammy awards last week  -- Best R&B Performance by a Duo for "Stay with Me (By the Sea)" and Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for "You've Got The Love I Need" -- and of course out-classed Justin Timberlake on the televised award program singing his 1972 classic "Let's Stay Together."  Sonny Rollins, 78, won Record of the Year in the VIllage Voice's 3rd annual jazz critics' poll, with Road Shows Vol. 1  (which made my 2008 10-best list) and resumes touring in April with concerts in Arkansas, Miami and … [Read more...]

Sonny Rollins in Chicago

Sonny Rollins at 78 is still a saxophone collosus, as he demonstrated leading his touring sextet Thursday night to open the Chicago Jazz Festival. His bent posture, shock of white hair and strong features give him the air of an Old Testament prophet, and his stamina may not be all it was when he was younger, but he brought wisdom, humor and intensity to an upbeat and swinging rendition of Irving Berlin's "Falling In Love Is Wonderful," sweet warmth  to Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood" (backed only by his rhythm section), and for a finale … [Read more...]