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Orrin Keepnews: A Certain Integrity

Sonny Rollins remembers the prolific jazz record producer

Orrin Keepnews and Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins and Orrin Keepnews

I recorded originally with Orrin on Riverside. I was listening to Terry Gross on Fresh Air last night and she had a little tribute to him. She played a record that I forgot I had made-it was so long ago-on Riverside. I forgot how many records I made with Orrin on Riverside, but I made more than a couple.

The issue around [1958’s] Freedom Suite is still universal. [Keepnews co-produced the album with Bill Grauer and wrote its liner notes.] Well, my grandmother was an activist, so when I was a little teeny boy, I would be out with her marching up and down Harlem for the Scottsboro Boys or for Paul Robeson or any kind of racial incident. She was a Garveyite. I was brought up that way. Freedom Suite and the other things that I did in that vein were very much part of my upbringing. It wasn’t a big deal for me to write that. I was well versed in those things as a kid, so Freedom Suite was just one expression of that. Orrin did go for it, which is to his credit. He accepted the short note I wrote for the cover. I know that must have caused him problems with his colleagues after the record was out. I just feel that happened.

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