[Dixielandjazz] Sonny Rollins Goes Digital

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Oct 21 15:41:56 PDT 2006

Sonny Rollins is not OKOM, but some on the List enjoy his music. Please
delete irf you don't like his music.

If you read it, note his concessions to technology and changes in the music
industry. His own record label, releasing a new album digitally, audio and
video clips on his web site etc.

I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Steve Barbone

Saxophone Colossus Strides Into a New Life

NY TIMES - By NATE CHINEN - October 21, 2006

GERMANTOWN, N.Y. ‹ Until recently, Sonny Rollins practiced his tenor
saxophone in a cottage studio a short, loping distance from his house here,
on the rustic property he and his wife, Lucille, bought nearly 35 years ago.
Mr. Rollins, who has long been lionized, partly for his intense, solitary
practicing ‹ or woodshedding, in jazz argot ‹ would often work in the
cottage past nightfall. At the house, his wife would turn on the porch light
so he could find his way back through the dark.

Lucille Rollins died not quite two years ago, and Mr. Rollins initially
turned to his regimen for solace. ³So I came out here a few times,² he said
in his studio one recent afternoon, ³and then I looked, and there was no
light on the porch. It just kind of highlighted that, well, there¹s nobody
there now.² These days, he practices in the house.

Mr. Rollins has faced many more changes since the death of his wife, who
scrupulously managed his business affairs for more than 30 years. Last year
he fulfilled his recording contract with Milestone, and instead of renewing
it, he formed his own label, Doxy Records, through which he is releasing his
strongest studio album in a decade or more, ³Sonny, Please.² And while the
album has been licensed to Universal, which plans to distribute a digital
version next month and a CD in January, it has quietly been available for
several months, along with other merchandise and free audio and video clips,
at sonnyrollins.com. For Mr. Rollins, who turned 76 six weeks ago, this has
all been new terrain.

As an elder statesman, Mr. Rollins is aware of the emblematic impact of his
decision to abandon the traditional recording-industry model, though he
plays down that impact. ³This is where the business is going,² he said. ³I
hate technology myself, but that aside, one of the good things technology
has done is allowed guys to use the Internet and sell their own product. I
think this is inevitable.²

A certain amount of faith accompanies that claim, given that Mr. Rollins
does not own a computer. He consented to a Web site at the urging of the
trombonist Clifton Anderson, his nephew and a longtime member of his band.
Through the recommendation of Terri Hinte, the former director of publicity
at Fantasy, Milestone¹s parent company, Mr. Anderson enlisted as Web
producer an entrepreneur, Bret Primack, who first met Mr. Rollins in the

Mr. Primack unveiled sonnyrollins.com on Mr. Rollins¹s 75th birthday; he
says the site has logged 250,000 visitors from 95 countries. Last month Mr.
Primack assembled some streaming video clips of Mr. Rollins in concert,
provided by a collector, Hal Miller. (They were up for one week, but most of
them can still be found on YouTube.) Periodically Mr. Primack sends Mr.
Rollins the comments from his guest book, which Mr. Anderson credits with
helping to ease his grief.

Still, seclusion suits Mr. Rollins, who moved more than 100 miles north of
New York City, he said, ³because Lucille and I wanted to be away from
people.² Answering a knock at the door of his house, he wore a hooded
sweatshirt; a radio inside blared baseball playoff chatter. (A Yankees fan
during his youth in Harlem, Mr. Rollins grew disillusioned some years ago
with what he called ³the mercenary nature of the team,² and has since rooted
for the Mets.) 

For the brief walk from the house to the cottage ‹ past an actual woodshed,
appropriately enough ‹ Mr. Rollins pulled on snow boots and a ski jacket,
though it was a warm and cloudless day.

Mr. Rollins stomachs but does not savor his extramusical duties. ³Releasing
this record and dealing with lawyers and this whole thing, that¹s a very
difficult thing that I have had to do,² he said. He has also had to approve
decisions regarding concerts and promotions. ³So that brings me into the
picture more than I¹d want to be,² he said, ³but there¹s no choice.²

He was painting a picture in stark contrast to what he wistfully remembered
as ³a perfect existence,² in which Mrs. Rollins handled everything but the
music. Partly to fill that void, Mr. Rollins has gathered an inner circle of
Mr. Anderson, Ms. Hinte and Mr. Primack. (His agent, Ted Kurland, occupies a
concentric outer circle, along with his recording engineer, Richard
Corsello, and his tour manager, Peter Downey.)

At times this team has knowingly crossed boundaries established by Mrs.
Rollins. The most prominent example is ³Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert,²
the album with which Mr. Rollins fulfilled his obligation last year to
Milestone and the Concord Music Group, which acquired Fantasy in 2004. The
album was a bootleg: the man who recorded it, an avid jazz collector named
Carl Smith, had previously offered it to the label at no charge. But Mrs.
Rollins would brook no exception to her policy of condemning illicit taping.

³Lucille was adamant about shutting that door and keeping it shut,² Ms.
Hinte said, ³and Sonny was not.²

When the album was finally issued, its back story ‹ involving a concert in
Boston just four days after Mr. Rollins had evacuated his apartment near the
World Trade Center ‹ helped make it a success. Mr. Rollins was voted artist
of the year in two critics¹ polls, and he won a Grammy Award, only the
second of his career.

³Sonny, Please,² recorded in a New York studio one month after Mr. Rollins
and his band had finished a Japanese tour, has a less dramatic provenance.
(Its title is derived from an expression of exasperation frequently used by
Mrs. Rollins.) But it is a noteworthy achievement, at least to anyone
intimately acquainted with Mr. Rollins¹s working habits.

³He¹s the foremost living example of someone who is always much too hard on
themselves in the studio,² said Orrin Keepnews, who produced many of Mr.
Rollins¹s records over the years, beginning in the mid-1950¹s. ³When I
worked with Sonny,² Mr. Keepnews said from his home near Berkeley, Calif.,
³he refused to get involved with mixing. As intensely self-critical as he
is, he has obviously crossed into an area where he can handle that now,
which is a big step.²

Mr. Rollins still describes listening to his own playing as ³an excruciating
experience.² But because his wife is gone, and he trusts no one else to edit
his albums, the task is his. While recording ³Sonny, Please,² he went into
the engineer¹s booth to listen to playbacks, something he had rarely done

Of course, he had some gentle encouragement. ³We were all trying to make
this record more comfortable for him,² said Mr. Anderson, who is credited as
the album¹s producer; he was referring to the band, which also comprises the
bassist Bob Cranshaw, the guitarist Bobby Broom, the drummer Steve Jordan
and the percussionist Kimati Dinizulu. ³We¹re committed to making the music
the best vehicle for Sonny to be able to express himself. A lot of critics
say that the band is just there for Sonny, and that¹s true: we¹re there for

Viewed from one perspective, that¹s a purely comforting thought; from
another, it might seem terribly lonely. Mr. Rollins suggested that it might
be both. 

³When I play, I have a lot of responsibility,² he said. ³The band has to
sound good, and I¹ve got to sort of bring the band together by what I do.²
He admitted to feeling an increasing burden of expectation over the years,
partly self-inflicted and partly a product of his stature.

It is a heavy load for any artist, even if someone else programs his Web
site. Thankfully there exists that elusive, unforced moment, in the course
of some pressing improvisation, when inspiration strikes, and the weight,
however briefly, disappears.

³Oh, sure,² Mr. Rollins said, brightening at the thought of that
possibility. ³If something like that happens, everything is fine.²

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