by Matt Micucci
Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins will be presented with the Jazz Foundation of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Oct 22, at the Apollo Theater during the foundation’s 14th Annual “A Great Night in Harlem” gala concert.
The concert segment honoring Rollins will feature performances by Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan), Jimmy Heath, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Bartz, Billy Harper, Randy Brecker, Clifton Anderson, Kenny Garrett, Ravi Coltrane, Al Foster, James Carter, Wallace Roney, the Cecil Bridgewater Big Band, and more.
Sonny Rollins is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential jazz musicians. Born in New York City in 1930, his life was changed by a concert by Frank Sinatra which was accompanied by a plea for racial harmony.
Rollins initially started as a pianist, but soon changed to alto saxophone and finally switched to tenor in 1946. His first recordings came in 1949, with the bebop singer Babs Gonzales. But it was with J.J. Johnson and Bud Powell that he really started to make a name for himself, playing what they referred to as “hard bop”. He also went on to play with the Modern Jazz Quartet and Miles David in 1951, and with David, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker in 1953.
In 1956, he recorded his widely acclaimed album Saxophone Colossus. This was his sixth record as leader, and included his best known composition St. Thomas. Other notable compositions of his that became jazz standards include Oleo (1954), and Doxy (1957).
Now comes the lifetime achievement award from the Jazz Foundation of America. For 26 years, the Jazz Foundation of America has been keeping jazz and blues alive by helping musicians who played with everyone from Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday to Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. The organization now assists in more than 5000 cases a year nationwide – preventing homelessness and eviction by paying rents and mortgages; providing free medical care and operations; maintaining a Musicians’ Emergency Fund to address a wide range of crises.
“What a necessary, wonderful organization!” says Rollins. “I’ve been aware of the Jazz Foundation’s work for many years now, including the assistance they’ve given to so many of my colleagues. I’m honored to receive this award from them and to lend them whatever support I can now and in the future.”