Sonny Rollins, saxophone colossus
I received an inquiry in February from Jacques who wanted to know if Sonny Rollins plays the saxophone on the Rolling Stones' "Tattoo You" album. The answer is yes.
It is always a pleasure to have a reason to reach out to Sonny and have a chat. Sonny is a major figure in the evolution of modern jazz. He was inspired to play the sax by the seminal figures Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker. Sonny's talents were obvious very early in his career. He recorded very important works with Bud Powell and Fats Navarro in 1949 when he was still 18 years old. Sonny remembers waiting outside of Coleman "Bean" Hawkins' home in Harlem to get his autograph, and Bean was inspirational in Sonny's life. This is evident in Sonny's choice of the tenor sax as his instrument.
Sonny always worked with the best performers, starting with Babs Gonzalez and including Clifford Brown and Thelonious Monk. Earlier in his career he had worked in George Hall's band, a distinction he shares with my dad. Sonny became disillusioned with his art for a while and took time off to reconsider his direction. During this time, he would practice at odd hours on one of the bridges connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. His first disc after his hiatus is entitled "The Bridge" and is some of his best work. He was someone I looked up to for his professionalism and inventive curiosity. I was inspired to be at my best after witnessing his performances while I was in high school.
Even saxophone icon John Coltrane was inspired by Sonny, writing a song entitled "Like Sonny." Sonny's exemplary courage and leadership have inspired people in all walks of life. Michael Caine had him write and perform the music for the movie "Alfie." That soundtrack has become standard in the jazz vocabulary. The remake of that movie, released a couple of years ago, omitted the best part of the first film -- its original score by Sonny Rollins. Shame on them! But Sonny marches on. He still performs at jazz venues around the world -- a colossus striding the world stage.