The Jazz Fix: ‘Who is Sonny Rollins?’

Sonny Rollins – saxophonist and arguably one of history’s most masterful musical improvisors – recorded his first record in 1948, and by 1959 was recognised as one of the world’s most important and influential jazz performers. But who really is Sonny Rollins? Dick Fontaine’s outstanding 1968 film seeks to find out, and discovers a musician in the lull of a second performance sabbatical (his first came years earlier). As the film seeks to explore, Rollins became tired of the club scene, and the way it “kills off a lot of people”, and so decided to give up playing for the paying public. The film finds Rollins searching for a freer economy of music; one which begins in the classroom, (where Charles Moffett makes an appearance as an inspiring music teacher!) and extends to Rollins playing on the Williamsburg bridge with Paul Jeffrey, subconsciously adapting their music as trains rumble by, sirens scream below and planes fly overhead. There’s never been any doubt as to Rollins’ artistic integrity, but this is an insightful document of the times and the feelings that the musician had during that era. We’ll share more of Fontaine’s (frankly brilliant) jazz films in the future.