234

Open Sky: Sonny Rollins and His World of Improvisation

Craig Jolley By

Sign in to view read count


Open Sky
Eric Nisenson
St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 0312253303

Because of the time required and because of his reservations about the music establishment Sonny Rollins has been reluctant to discuss his career publicly. Lately he seems to be easing up due to the influence of his wife/business manager Lucille Rollins. Rollins, who plans to write an autobiography, allowed Eric Nisenson to interview him for Open Sky. The book is flavored with excerpts from the interviews framed with the author’s explanations. It can be read quickly—it took me about two hours. There are no pictures, discography, or index.

In his introduction Nisenson explains this bio is not intended as comprehensive. It focuses on the first part of Rollins’ career (1949 - 66)—the “development” years. The discussions of Rollins’ early records sound familiar—they are close to the takes of other writers. Beginning in 1962 (The Bridge) Nisenson presents a more fearless, personal approach, treating many of Rollins’ sessions differently from the norm. He convincingly describes the early 60’s (RCA) records as more musical than the mid 60’s (Impulse) records when the reverse is generally accepted. Rollins feels his recordings do not accurately represent his artistry, an opinion Nisenson [and I] concur with. Still, they are better than nothing (Actually they are better than almost anything.), and they form a reasonable basis for discussion of his music.

Fittingly the book is fact oriented with names, recording dates, and thumbnail sketches of other musicians. Some of the thumbnail sketches and other incidental information could have been omitted or presented more artfully. Much of it comes off as misleading or even irritating. Nisenson re-enacts the well-known Miles Davis - Thelonious Monk feud during a recording session Rollins did not play on. Describing Charlie Parker's death he recites the familiar story of the coroner’s report stating that Parker appeared to be in his 50’s when he was actually only 34. These passages and others evoke an air of tabloid journalism. It gets worse. When Nisenson wants an expert opinion on Miles Davis he quotes (and cites) himself—while he has the reader’s attention there is a sense he is promoting his other books. He calls Dizzy Gillespie an "elder statesman" (He was 40.) at the time of his 1957 recording with Rollins. Other embarrassments:

"Hard bop made the blues central to jazz expression again."

"Although he struggles valiantly Watkins is clearly hampered by the limitations of his instrument."

"Powell became inarguably the most influential pianist in jazz. "

"Miles Davis was a key figure not only in the advent of cool jazz but also in hard bop."

Nisenson depicts the modern day Rollins as philosophical, pessimistic, and increasingly concerned about the environment. He can still play at a high level but not as consistently as in his early career. As an artist he hopes to influence a more humanistic, less technological world. The later sections of the book are similarly more thoroughly considered and better written.


Shop

More Articles

Read The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1965 Book Reviews The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1965
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 11, 2017
Read Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge Book Reviews Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 21, 2017
Read Paul Morley: The Age of Bowie Book Reviews Paul Morley: The Age of Bowie
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: December 25, 2016
Read Charles Lloyd: A Wild, Blatant Truth Book Reviews Charles Lloyd: A Wild, Blatant Truth
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 25, 2016
Read Man Of The Light: The Life And Work Of Zbigniew Seifert Book Reviews Man Of The Light: The Life And Work Of Zbigniew Seifert
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 11, 2016
Read "50 Summers of Music: Montreux Jazz Festival" Book Reviews 50 Summers of Music: Montreux Jazz Festival
by Ian Patterson
Published: August 11, 2016
Read "Man Of The Light: The Life And Work Of Zbigniew Seifert" Book Reviews Man Of The Light: The Life And Work Of Zbigniew Seifert
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 11, 2016
Read "The Band Photographs 1968-1969" Book Reviews The Band Photographs 1968-1969
by Doug Collette
Published: March 26, 2016
Read "What Happened, Miss Simone?: A Biography" Book Reviews What Happened, Miss Simone?: A Biography
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: March 15, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!