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Open Sky


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About the Author

Eric Nisenson is the author of several jazz books, including The Making of Kind of Blue. He lives in Malden, Massachusetts.


Less a biography than an effusive discography, this study of the legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins lacks the innovative playfulness that characterizes the jazz tenor's own work. Nisenson ('Round About Midnight) sets out to document "the development of a great jazzman's sensibility and musical conception, and how his life has meshed with his art." To that end, he traces Rollins's career from his stints as Miles Davis's sideman in the early 1950s and his ascension to accomplished bandleader by the '60s through his less influential past three decades. The lengthy quotations from Rollins himself, who riffs on such topics as his escape from heroin and his desire to remain humble in the face of success, show him to be a strikingly introspective figure, impeccably self-aware and critical of himself as a human being. It's unfortunate that Nisenson's treatment of Rollins's relationships to social and political issues is cut short in two important instances: Rollins's 1960 anti-racism album, The Freedom Suite, and his frustration with the bottom-line-obsessed world of major record labels, which led him to retreat from the jazz scene for six years starting in 1966. Instead, the author concentrates on Rollins's theory of improvisation as a highly intuitive expression of emotion and self; his reactions to the musician's various albums are accordingly subjective, evocative and full of metaphors. Yet the extravagant praise Nisenson heaps on Rollins grows monotonous, muddling together the different albums. Overall, there's very little hard information or insight to be gleaned from this cloying book. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Rollins was born in Harlem in 1930 when the Harlem Renaissance was at its peak. His family was caught up in the atmosphere that produced not only great culture but also a social consciousness that led to the Back to Africa movement. By the time Rollins graduated from high school, he was a professional musician playing with the likes of Thelonious Monk and fronting his own trio. Heroin addiction made him into a pariah and landed him in jail for armed robbery, but through music he overcame it. Nisenson (Blue: The Murder of Jazz) clearly knows his territory. Extensive interviews with Rollins provide insight and detail into his evolution as a musician of passion, integrity, and invention. While Nisenson wears his admiration for Rollins on his sleeve, he has written a compelling history of one of the unsung jazz giants; recommended for all jazz collections.--Dan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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