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Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins by Text by Bob Blumenthal, Photos by John Abbott

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The first thing one notices about Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins is, of course, the cover. The album after which this hardcover, coffee-table-style book is named was recorded in 1956-Rollins, at the time, was 25 years old. Yet the black-and-white photo that graces the dust jacket depicts a considerably older man, his beard white, his fingers and face bearing the wrinkles apropos of his present age. It’s a tip-off that what we are about to read is not a biography (although biographical elements are certainly a large part of it), but, as its subtitle makes clear, a study more concerned with who and why than when.

Although the text, by veteran jazz journalist Bob Blumenthal, is inspired by that career-defining recording of more than 50 years ago, the author uses Saxophone Colossus as a pivot point, delving into Rollins’ motivations and methods from throughout his lengthy career. Blumenthal frames his essays using each of the five compositions on the original album as a chapter title: “St. Thomas,” Saxophone Colossus‘ calypso-based lead-off track, provides Blumenthal with an opening into Rollins’ relationship with rhythm; “Moritat” focuses on his repertory choices and more. Blumenthal’s familiarity with Rollins, and his insight into the body of work, is palpable throughout.

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