Those who follow developments in the jazz community are accustomed to seeing occasional announcements about educational grants to musicians. Sonny Rollins this week reversed the order. He is becoming a donor. Oberlin College announced that the tenor saxophonist is giving the Oberlin Conservatory what the college describes as “a generous gift to establish and maintain the Oberlin Conservatory of Music Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble Fund.” Beginning next spring, jazz studies majors at Oberlin will be allowed to audition for what will be known as The Sonny Ensemble. From the announcement:
Each student’s candidacy will be considered on the basis of four criteria: an audition before Oberlin’s jazz faculty, evidence of academic achievement, thoughtful response to a question about the place of jazz in the world, and service to humanity.
The dean of the Conservatory, Andrea Kalyn, said, That the legendary Sonny Rollins—an artist of truly extraordinary accomplishment, soulfulness, and character—would entrust Oberlin to steward his legacy is the highest honor, and deeply humbling."
Here is a sample of what Oberlin refers to as Mr. Rollins’s soulfulness and character. Perhaps it is not necessary to also point out his musicianship, control and compatibility with the remarkable guitarist Jim Hall. This is “The Bridge,” which debuted in 1962 on the indispensible Rollins album of that title. In this version from Ralph J. Gleason’s Jazz Casual television program, Ben Riley is the drummer, Bob Cranshaw the bassist.
Let’s listen to Rollins and watch him in his dramatic shirt 35 years later in an extended solo at a concert in Japan. The piece is briefly identified on the screen, but in case you glance away and miss it, it’s “Falling in Love with Love” by Richard Rodgers. Not that they have much to do in this clip, but the supporting players are Clifton Anderson, trombone, Stephen Scott, piano; John Lee, bass, Steve Jordan, drums; and Victor See Yeng, percussion.
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