Sonny Rollins, Still Living The Well-Lived Life (Revisited)

In honor of this American treasure –a literal living legend– on the occasion of his 82nd birthday, I’ll revisit a piece I wrote in April, 2010.

If you’ve lived on this planet thus far without getting Sonny into your life, I can’t encourage you more strongly to rectify that, immediately.


Nice feature on American treasure (and no I don’t use that word lightly) Sonny Rollins in today’s Boston Globe.

The man is going to celebrate his 80th birthday this year (in September) and is still active, creative, engaged.

There are certain artists who are so incomparable, as artists, as human beings, as role models, that enough good things cannot possibly be said. There are not many in this category, but if anyone is, Rollins must be included. Ceaselessly humble, relentlessly ambitious and seldom (if ever) satisfied with his performances, Rollins is the rarest of birds: the enlightened being who figured out early on how to live life in full, on his own terms, and has never strayed from that almost monastic path.

A few money quotes from the article:

“I don’t care about landmarks and foolishness,’’ he says. “I am a musician very much into everyday activities. I practice everyday. I compose. I am in the middle of my career in my mind.’’

“I never thought anything was as important as understanding what I needed to do as an artist,’’ he says. “You can’t care about how the public reacts. It’s not something you can contemplate and anticipate. I try to get close to my inner self, and I know that will be OK. When I know I’m playing well, I know that everyone else feels that way.’’

You want to know what a bad ass motherfucker Sonny Rollins is? There are numerous examples, but two leap to mind (one well-known; the other less so):
Example one: two words, The Bridge. (I could explain this, but thanks to YouTube, footage exists of him describing this unbelievable story.)

Example two: at a concert in the ’80s, Rollins was in the middle of one of his ebullient solos when, in the joy of the moment, decided to leap off the stage. Suddenly, silence. After a few stunned moments, the music started up again. Miraculously this is caught on film, and the cameras pan in on Sonny, flat on his back, continuing to play. Cool enough, right? It turns out he broke his heel in the fall. And continued to play. Not just the song, but the rest of the show. The show, of course, must go on. (Flash-forward to the 18.20 mark for the magic.)

The last century blessed America with more than a handful of geniuses whose lives and work will be studied and appreciated many, many centuries after they are gone. Rollins is most definitely on the short list of masters who can teach us a great deal about ourselves and how we should aspire to be, and in the process, as all great art inevitably does, make that life quest immeasurably richer and more enjoyable in the process.

Blow on, Sonny.

(Recommended Rollins for the uninitiated: Sonny Rollins Plus 4, Saxophone Colossus, Night at the Village Vanguard, Alfie, and East Broadway Rundown which, for whatever it’s worth, is one of my all-time favorite recordings in any genre.)



  1. Jay Steichmann says:

    I’ve only seen Sonny Rollins play live once, and that was around the time of Horn Culture, a 1973 Milestone release. Sonny was stellar–but I need to revisit that album, because at the time I was not ready to hear Rollins with Walter Bishop’s electric piano & if I recall, Bob Cranshaw was playing with a crappy sounding electric bass. There was a japanese guitarist who was eminently forgettable. Mtume played percussion & far oushone the drummer.

    I *almost* got to see him last Friday night at the Detroit Jazz Festival. The sponsors & organizers have kept this a free concert & the Great One was the opening attraction. Unfortunately for me, about 40,000 people had the same idea well before I did, in a space meant to hold about 20,000. Got to hear a little bit–but other than the clearly identifiable sound, there was no way for me to confirm he was live & not Memorex!

    I can confirm sightings Sunday of Pat Metheny’s Unity band, Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas, Marcus Belgrave with Marian Hayden, Louis Hayes, and Curtis Fuller, and Wayne Shorter with Perez, Pattitucci, and Blades. Still a little pissed that I didn’t get to see Sonny.

  2. Sean Murphy says:


    My favorite part of your comment was THE WHOLE THING.

    Thank you for being awesome.


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