The Notebooks of Sonny Rollins

Introduction by Sam V. H. Reese
Edited by Sam V. H. Reese
Sonny Rollins is one of the towering masters of American music, a virtuoso of the saxophone, and an unequaled improviser whose live performances are legendary and who has reshaped modern jazz time and time again over the course of a career lasting more than sixty years. A turning point in that legendary career came in 1959, when Rollins stepped back from performing and recording to begin a new regime of musical exploration, which saw him practicing for hours, sometimes all through the night, on the Williamsburg Bridge. This was also the moment when he started the notebook that would become a trusted companion in years to come—not a diary so much as a place to ponder art and life and his own search for meaning in words and in images.

At once quotidian and aphoristic, the notebooks mingle lists of chores and rehearsal routines with ruminations on nightclub culture, racism, and the conundrums of the inner life. And always there is the music—questions of embouchure, fingering, and technique; of harmony and dissonance; of his own and others’ art and the art of jazz. “Any definition,” Rollins insists, “which seeks to separate Johann Sebastian Bach from Miles Davis is defeating its own purpose of clarification. . . .The Musings of Miles is then the Bouncing of Bach both played against each other.”

Edited and introduced by the critic and jazz scholar Sam V.H. Reese, The Notebooks of Sonny Rollins provides an unequaled glimpse into the mind and workshop of a musical titan, as well as a wealth of insight and inspiration to readers.
"Through his notebooks, Rollins emerges as a driven, humble, thoughtful, dedicated, persistent, and spiritual soul in search of a higher force through music...[these are] illuminating diary entries by a jazz legend." —Dave Szatmary, Library Journal

"A welcome peek into the mind of the great jazz musician....Reese, author of Blue Notes: Jazz, Literature and Loneliness, delves into the tenor saxophonist’s substantial archives in the New York Public Library, unearthing these fascinating notebooks. Divided into four chronological sections covering nearly 50 years, they capture how Rollins’ thinking about a wide range of subjects evolved...Heady musical and philosophical stuff."  —Kirkus Reviews


"Music critic and short story writer Reese celebrates tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins with...the 93-year-old jazz legend’s personal notes spanning from 1959 to 2010. Individually precise, yet somewhat loosely arranged into four broad sections, Rollins’s undated jottings break down his practice routine in commentary that can be mundane or surprisingly philosophical....a sense of the artist’s complicated internal life and nearly religious dedication to his craft comes through powerfully and poetically...This will be a boon for Rollins’s myriad admirers."  —Publishers Weekly
Sonny Rollins has been calledjazz’s greatest living improviser” by The New York Times. Born in New York City and raised in Harlem, Rollins began by playing alto saxophone but soon switched to the instrument that would make his career, the tenor. He has recorded with musicians such as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk; composed a number of jazz standards; and has been honored with the Grammy Award for lifetime achievement and a National Medal of Arts, among other awards.

Sam V. H. Reese is a fiction writer, critic, and teacher. His most recent book is Blue Notes: Jazz, Literature, and Loneliness. He lives in the UK.

About

Sonny Rollins is one of the towering masters of American music, a virtuoso of the saxophone, and an unequaled improviser whose live performances are legendary and who has reshaped modern jazz time and time again over the course of a career lasting more than sixty years. A turning point in that legendary career came in 1959, when Rollins stepped back from performing and recording to begin a new regime of musical exploration, which saw him practicing for hours, sometimes all through the night, on the Williamsburg Bridge. This was also the moment when he started the notebook that would become a trusted companion in years to come—not a diary so much as a place to ponder art and life and his own search for meaning in words and in images.

At once quotidian and aphoristic, the notebooks mingle lists of chores and rehearsal routines with ruminations on nightclub culture, racism, and the conundrums of the inner life. And always there is the music—questions of embouchure, fingering, and technique; of harmony and dissonance; of his own and others’ art and the art of jazz. “Any definition,” Rollins insists, “which seeks to separate Johann Sebastian Bach from Miles Davis is defeating its own purpose of clarification. . . .The Musings of Miles is then the Bouncing of Bach both played against each other.”

Edited and introduced by the critic and jazz scholar Sam V.H. Reese, The Notebooks of Sonny Rollins provides an unequaled glimpse into the mind and workshop of a musical titan, as well as a wealth of insight and inspiration to readers.

Reviews

"Through his notebooks, Rollins emerges as a driven, humble, thoughtful, dedicated, persistent, and spiritual soul in search of a higher force through music...[these are] illuminating diary entries by a jazz legend." —Dave Szatmary, Library Journal

"A welcome peek into the mind of the great jazz musician....Reese, author of Blue Notes: Jazz, Literature and Loneliness, delves into the tenor saxophonist’s substantial archives in the New York Public Library, unearthing these fascinating notebooks. Divided into four chronological sections covering nearly 50 years, they capture how Rollins’ thinking about a wide range of subjects evolved...Heady musical and philosophical stuff."  —Kirkus Reviews


"Music critic and short story writer Reese celebrates tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins with...the 93-year-old jazz legend’s personal notes spanning from 1959 to 2010. Individually precise, yet somewhat loosely arranged into four broad sections, Rollins’s undated jottings break down his practice routine in commentary that can be mundane or surprisingly philosophical....a sense of the artist’s complicated internal life and nearly religious dedication to his craft comes through powerfully and poetically...This will be a boon for Rollins’s myriad admirers."  —Publishers Weekly

Author

Sonny Rollins has been calledjazz’s greatest living improviser” by The New York Times. Born in New York City and raised in Harlem, Rollins began by playing alto saxophone but soon switched to the instrument that would make his career, the tenor. He has recorded with musicians such as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk; composed a number of jazz standards; and has been honored with the Grammy Award for lifetime achievement and a National Medal of Arts, among other awards.

Sam V. H. Reese is a fiction writer, critic, and teacher. His most recent book is Blue Notes: Jazz, Literature, and Loneliness. He lives in the UK.