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Sonny's Still on a Roll


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The high honors, perhaps long overdue, keep on rolling in for saxophonist Sonny Rollins. His historic 80th birthday concert in New York's Town Hall three nights after his September 7 birthday was one of the top jazz events of 2010

Then you add in Edward MacDowell Medal, a lifetime achievement award from the Montreal International Jazz Festival, being the subject of an artful and insightful book (John Abbott and Blumenthal's Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins) and induction into to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honorary society.

Now, Rollins is on the eve of visiting the nation's most famous address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Tomorrow, Wednesday March 2, Rollins will be one of 10 recipients of the 2010 National Medal of Arts for outstanding achievements and support of the arts. President Barack Obama will do the honors in an East Room ceremony at the White House. The medal is the nation's highest honor for artistic excellence.

The National Endowment for the Arts, which has announced its intention to eliminate the NEA Jazz Masters awards program going forward, organizes this one as well. And it is good to see jazz have a prominent place.

The other 2010 National Medal of Arts Recipients are theatrical critic, producer and playwright Robert Brustein, pianist Van Cliburn, sculptor Mark di Suvero, poet Donald Hall, musician and producer Quincy Jones (who has firm jazz roots), author Harper Lee, actress Meryl Streep, singer-songwriter James Taylor, and the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.

What splendid company.

And it is great to see Rollins and Jones help keep the jazz momentum going on this stage. Past jazz honorees include Ella Fitzgerald (1987), Billy Taylor (1992), Cab Calloway (1993), Dave Brubeck (1994), Lionel Hampton (1996), Betty Carter (1997), Benny Carter (2000), Paquito D'Rivera (2005), Wynton Marsalis (2005) and Hank Jones (2008).

Time permitting, you can tune in via the Web to watch tomorrow's event at 1:45 pm Eastern Time at

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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