Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

The Zen of Sonny Rollins

Sidelined by lung disease, our greatest living jazz musician longs for the stage and ponders the nature of existence

Sonny Rollins at home in upstate New York, December 2015 (photo: Yuki Tei)
Sonny Rollins at home in upstate New York, December 2015 (photo: Yuki Tei)
Sonny Rollins attends Ornette Coleman's funeral in New York, June 2015
As Danny Glover looks on at the Apollo Theater, Sonny Rollins accepts a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America last October
Sonny Rollins records in September 1957, two years before his fabled sabbatical on the Williamsburg Bridge

The most recently recorded track on Sonny Rollins’ new album, Holding the Stage: Road Shows, Vol. 4 (Doxy/OKeh), is a ballad called “Mixed Emotions.” On its face, it’s the latest manifestation of the sublime way that Rollins-jazz’s preeminent tenor saxophonist and most heralded improviser, as well as its most admired living master-can extract truth and beauty from a mawkish, minor piece of the American Songbook, as if spinning straw into gold.

“Mixed Emotions,” composed by Stuart F. Louchheim, was a moderate hit in 1951 for Rosemary Clooney, who recorded it with Percy Faith and His Orchestra. Rollins first heard a version of the song recorded by Dinah Washington, with backing by musicians like the Lester Young-ish tenor saxophonist Paul Quinichette. Washington does her regal best with the song, a cry of romantic ambivalence that bends toward fond resignation: “But if you were perfect/It wouldn’t be the same,” she sings. “To a tiger, a tiger’s not a tiger if he’s tame.”

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published