Saturday, September 25, 2010

2010 is a very Sonny year

The Chinese Lunar Calendar considers 2010 as the Year of the Tiger, but in the jazz calendar this is the Year of the Colossus.

Why? All of the deserved attention focused on tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, who turned 80 on September 7 - still a vibrant musical force and restless explorer. (At right, Sonny Rollins at Newport, August 2008. Ken Franckling photo).

Here’s the rundown of significant moments that have taken place.

- On June 27, Rollins received the Montreal International Jazz Festival’s Miles Davis Award for his lifetime contributions to and achievements in jazz.

- On August 15, Rollins received the Edward MacDowell Medal from The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The prestigious award is given annually to an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her field. The Colony quite fittingly selected jazz writer, critic and Colony Fellow Gary Giddins to keynote the event.

- On September 10, three days after Rollins turned octogenarian, a sold-out 80th birthday concert at New York’s Beacon Theater was filled with much Rollins wonder and a few surprise guests. The biggest surprise - perhaps the only true surprise - was the appearance of Ornette Coleman, with whom Rollins likely never performed in public in their long parallel careers. In his New York Times review the following Monday, Nate Chinen captured the essence of the summit.

- Four nights later Rollins joined photographer John Abbott and writer/critic Bob Blumenthal at the Barnes & Noble store in Tribeca to talk with fans, including more than a few fellow musicians, and sign copies of Abbott and Blumenthal's Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins. The book was published September 1 by Abrams. See for images from the event, and see Jazz Times' October issue for book excerpts.

It's not over.

On October 9 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Rollins will be among more than 200 scholars, scientists, writers and artists, as well as civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders, inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

The nation's oldest and most prestigious honorary society is celebrating the 230th anniversary of its founding. In the , other new members from humanities and arts include film director Francis Ford Coppola, actor Denzel Washington, dancer Suzanne Farrell and singer Thomas Hampson.

“It is a tremendous privilege and honor to be made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences," says Rollins. "Not only for me, but for what I represent - the great American music called jazz."

Rollins was nominated by Academy member Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, a Minneapolis-based neuroscientist, amateur saxophonist and longtime Rollins fan. "It's a terrific tribute to a legend," says Georgopoulos, "and a jewel in the Academy's crown."

Since its founding in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots, the Academy has elected leading "thinkers and doers" from each generation. Prominent inductees in prior centuries included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th. The Academy’s current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

In about two weeks, we can officially add a Saxophone Colossus to the list.

Rollins is being honored for a lifetime of achievement as a musician. But don’t for a nanosecond think he’s finished. He has many more creative notes to play.

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