[JPL] Jazz legend is still evolving

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Fri Nov 17 17:54:10 EST 2006


Jazz legend is still evolving

Dolores Tropiano
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 17, 2006 12:00 AM
Want to reach the pinnacle of art? Sonny Rollins will tell you that jazz is
the way to go.

"Jazz, the world of improvisation, is perhaps the highest (art form) because
we do not have the opportunity to make changes," the 76-year-old saxophonist
says. "It's as if we were painting before the public, and the following
morning we cannot go back and correct that blue color or change that red.

"We have to have the blues and reds very well placed before going out to
play. So for me, jazz is probably the most demanding art."

Rollins has been making that art for nearly 60 years.

The Harlem-born musician had released several albums before he was out of
his teens. Music from all of those decades, plus tunes off his new CD,
Sonny, Please, will be featured during his show Sunday in Scottsdale.

"I will be playing music from the new album and some other newer material
than that," Rollins says by phone from Illinois. "I'll also be playing older
material. A guy who's been around as long as I have has compiled a big
repertoire. I always have to keep something old and something new, and so
forth. So it will be a mixer."

The new CD, whose title comes from an expression his late wife used
regularly, includes a variety of music recorded after a recent tour in
Japan, including Someday I'll Find You, a piece from a radio show that
Rollins remembers listening to as a child.

"It is spontaneous," Rollins says of his live sets. "I have a list of about
20 songs which we have been playing, and, depending on how I feel, I may
play eight or nine of those songs."

Newer material featured in the show includes a piece that debuted last
summer during a free outdoor concert near the Lincoln Center for the
Performing Arts in New York.

"I did a piece there for J.J. Johnson, the trombonist who I was associated
with earlier in my career," Rollins says. "It was sort of a tribute piece to
him, you know. And I did another piece that I composed a few months ago
called Nice Lady that I debuted in Spain in July."

Rollins was born and raised in Harlem, where the rich sounds of jazz seemed
to be everywhere. His brother and sister played music. His uncle played a
lot of country-blues records, and there was jazz on the radio.

"The whole city was so vibrant with jazz music and all sorts of music, but
primarily jazz was my thing," he recalls. "I just heard it all around, and I
think I just imbibed a lot from my older siblings and from being in Harlem
and from living near the famous Cotton Club. . . . It was a great place to
be born to be a jazz musician."

Early in his career, Rollins became addicted to heroin and was

"That was a rough one and a tough one to break." Other challenges often led
Rollins to take sabbaticals from his career over the years. He once took a
break simply because of the struggles in the music industry.

"The business was very rough, and musicians couldn't make a living," says
Rollins, who sought solace studying Zen Buddhism in Japan and yoga in India.

But he has continued to have his share of successes. In 1961, he was
nominated for a Grammy for his score for the popular film Alfie. He won a
Grammy Award in 2000 for the song This Is What I Do and a second in 2004 for
Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert.

Rollins also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy
of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2004.

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