Sonny Rollins Still Evolving at 81

Anyone who is a true master of anything understands that mastery is not an end, but rather a means to true enlightenment.  It must be embraced humbly and selflessly.  With it comes tremendous responsibility and dedication – sacrifice that is never-ending.  Sonny Rollins, a true jazz master, understands this.  At 81 years of age, he still practices for as many hours each day as his stamina allows him.  Sonny addressed this in a recent interview on  the  Tavis Smiley PBS broadcast.  In the interview, he speaks: “…jazz is something which is so expansive. You see, this is why I’m so lucky. Jazz is not something that you can put a book, okay, practice, that’s my lesson. No, jazz goes on and on. You learn one thing and then, hey, here’s something else. … This is why jazz is America’s classical music and the great music that it is because there is no end, see?”

Born and raised in Harlem, Sonny Rollins knew at age 7 that he would be a major musician.  His mother got him a used alto saxophone (he eventually switched to tenor) and he would spend all day in his room playing.  With no formal training, he taught himself to become one of the most important jazz musicians of all time.  He worked with every Bop great you can imagine and, after two sabbaticals over the years, traveling the world many times over, he continues to evolve both as a musician and spiritual being.  His music is his meditation; his praise and his path to enlightenment.  We are beyond fortunate to have such a legend with us still.

Sonny Rollins is one of only four jazz musicians still living, pictured in Art Kane’s A Great Day in Harlem photo (1958), which hangs above my head as I write this.  One of those musicians, Ornette Coleman, is featured in Sonny’s newest release, Road Shows Vol. 2.  (Decca Records)  on Sonnymoon for Two, recorded on Sonny’s 80th birthday in New York at the Beacon Theatre.  This was the first time the two played together.  It’s an historical 20 minute gift of the two sax players dancing along with Christian McBride on bass and Roy Haynes on drums.  I highly recommend purchasing the CD to at the very least experience that conversation yourself.  What a surprise for the audience at the Beacon that night.  Here’s to many more years and many more Road Shows volumes with the great Sonny Rollins.

INto Harlem

Sonny Rollins Sextet in 2009

Photo: MySpace