2011 01 22 Thinking About Sonny


When I was a music student, I read biographies of pretty much any musician I could grab from the library: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Pablo Casals, etc. The story of Sonny Rollins and The Bridge is one of the few that has stuck with me.

In 1959, Sonny Rollins took a break from music. Although he was one of the finest sax players at the time, he felt pressure from other musicians such as John Coltrane (who emerged from working with Thelonius Monk and a second stint with Miles Davis a reinvented musician) and Ornette Colman who were changing jazz in significant ways.

For three years, Sonny Rollins walked to the Williamsburg Bridge to practice. He was living in a small apartment with neighbors surrounding him so he took to the bridge to rehearse. The traffic noise forced him to develop his breathing strength to be heard and he spent hours there, occasionally working with Jackie McLean. He emerged with a new command of his instrument and formed a new quartet that recorded ‘The Bridge’.

The only thing I miss about being a grad student, was having the time (and not being able to afford any distractions) to focus. One of my favorite times in school was the summer I spent living my myself on ~$450/month. I paid rent, utilities, gas and put $20-40/wk aside for food. The rest went into the bank. I spent all my time at the library or the studio and ramped up my work for nearly three months.