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March 05, 2008

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.


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Kareem, I am wondering what are some of your favorite books, do you prefer non-fiction or fiction?


I knew it!!!!
Thank you for confirming!
Keep rocking Kareem!

Jon K.


An incredible, beautiful saxophonist. Just magnificient.


If you were giving someone a crash course on Sonny, what 3 cds would you recommend?

Brian K Irvine

Cap or Kareem, I apologize for not knowing how to address you.

Thanks for the blog and insight! I am sharing it with my kids and everyone else.

My DAD is 77 (78 in April), well he is a West Coast (L.A. entire life) jazz enthusiast. He owns a serious collection of 78 (phonos) way back. I have been wanting him to share with someone. I thought of Roy Firestone, and now I read of your love. It would be interesting to share you east coast perspective with his west coast. It is a passion and his knowledge is pretty infinite on the subjects. I would love for you to meet him. We have some mutual friends (you and I ) so I thought I would reach out. I share his love in the jazz realm, however his passion is different. It would be a waste if he could not at least share it with someone who mirrors his passion. Another subject, and it seems everyone forgets about this giant in sports. Have you ever met Ollie Matson. Now that is a story. Thanks for taking the time, and excuse me (since I did not use spellcheck). BKI


Hi Kareem,

I had the pleasure of taking my then 13 year old son to a Sonny Rollins concert in 2006. After the show we waited outside the stage door with a few other “Sonny heads” for an autograph and a chance to say hello. I got a real kick out watching the other autograph seekers react when they spoke to us and found out my son (a budding saxophonist) was as big fan as any of us and could more than hold his own with them when discussing jazz or R&B music.
Sonny was very gracious to all and spent as much time as necessary outside on a chilly evening accommodating his fans. The autograph sits framed on the wall of my (now much more accomplished saxophonist) son’s room. My son was also totally “jazzed” to learn he and Sonny both play a King saxophone!
Thanks to Sonny (another yogi, yes?) and thank you Kareem for keeping jazz alive.

Clay Landon

You got to sit next to Sonny Rollins?

Life is good.

Dr Len

I think you shouldnt omit Oliver Nelson
when discussing Alfie.
And I don't think it was Cain's call.


HI Kareem
I would like your thoughts on what I have observed over the years as an important skill that few big men have and that is the ability to run the court. You and Russel and Walton are examples of those who in my humble opinion did it as well as can be expected. Now as a Lakers fan since 1956 and long time cheap seat season ticket holder I have been lucky to see most of the best. I do notice the tremendous improvement in Bynum's game but also that he does not run well. Is this something that can be learned? Any of your thoughts will be appreciated.
Warmest regards and thanks for the memories. Ed

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Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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