Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins

Hachette. Dec. 2022. 752p. ISBN 9780306902796. $35. MUSIC
Levy’s (Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed) biography of saxophone great Walter Theodore “Sonny” Rollins (b. 1930) meticulously moves from year to year with material gleaned from 200 interviews and much-neglected sources. He describes Sonny’s childhood, his start on the saxophone, and his initial professional success with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk that drug abuse and short prison stints partly tarnished. Levy continues with Rollins’s drug-free brilliance during the mid-to-late 1950s, his two-year disappearance from the scene, and his triumphant return in the early 1960s with five classic albums. The last part of this monumental book focuses on Rollins’s symbiotic relationship with wife Lucille and his creative, intense, never-ending, and spiritual search for jazz perfection during the next 50 years. This includes his hesitant appearance on the Rolling Stones album, Tattoo You, and his musical battles with Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Throughout, Levy vividly illuminates the clubs, jazz artists, record labels, and such burning social issues as racism and the 9/11 bombing near his home that enveloped, shaped, and motivated Rollins.
VERDICT A memorable work that will become the standard biography of the saxophone giant and should be embraced by all jazz fans and general readers. Highly recommended.
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