Courtesy of Yomiuri Shimbun
There are jazz giants... and then there' Sonny Rollins. With Miles Davis and Dizzy
Gillespie having passed on, Rollins remains arguably (perhaps with the addition of fellow
saxophonist Ornette Coleman) the greatest living titan of modern jazz. Not even the
generous confines of the Blue Note Tokyo would appear to be ample enough to contain this
larger-than-life figure, and he's been booked for two nights in May at Nakano Sun Plaza.
Born Theodore Walter Rollins in New York in 1930, Rollins began on the piano, switching to
alto sax before finally selecting the tenor sax as his instrument of choice. He became a
part of the feverish bebop scene which took off in the postwar years on 52nd street,
recording with trumpeter Miles Davis in 1951 and with pianist Thelonius Monk in '53. In
1955 he joined the Max Roach/Clifford Brown Quintet before launching his career as a
leadman in '57.
A string of magnificent releases followed on Prestige, Blue Note and other labels, winning
him acclaim as the top sax player of his day. Rollins' mighty physique and ability to blow
for hours were legendary.
But at the peak of his powers in 1959, Rollins all of a sudden dropped out of music. The
reason was the arrival on the scene of the equally impressive John Coltrane, who shook up
the jazz world with bold free jazz experiments.
Returning to music in 1961, Rollins had digested the changes altering the direction of
jazz, and began to play in a much freer style. One of his most memorable releases, The
Bridge, came out in 1962, named for Rollins' days spent honing his chops and pushing
the envelope of his music in marathon practice sessions atop the Brooklyn Bridge.
Rollins kept up a torrid pace throughout the '60s, but again retired in 1968. Returning in
1971, he began to absorb the electrification fusion was bringing to jazz. He experimented
with a wide variety of sidemen, even on one record recording with a bagpipe player.
Throughout the '80s and '90s, Rollins issued a steady stream of consistent recordings,
showcasing his undiminished lung capacity and tonal variety. In the meantime, record
companies began to press CD sets of his earlier material such as Jazz Profile
(Blue Note), Quartets (BMG), and A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue
Sonny Rollins plays Nakano
Sun Plaza on May 27-28 and Yokohama/Kanagawa Kenmin Hall on June 16.