Retirement has never had a precise agepoint in the creative industries. Practitioners, certainly improvising musicians, often go on far longer than in other fields, for a number of reasons, from artistic integrity to financial necessity; or in Sonny Rollins’ case, an unflagging dedication to their life’s work. He was still playing as a sprightly octogenarian, his silver halo afro giving him the distinct air of Nigerian literary giant Wole Soyinka, who may well have dubbed the American ‘The lion with the jewel’ as a poetic portrait to the rather more prosaic picture of ‘bebop’s last man standing.’
Rollins’ withdrawal from public stages eight years ago could not go unnoticed, given his iconic status and the fact that new generations of listeners and musicians alike were intent on getting close to the essential history embodied by this peer of Miles, Monk and Trane, who decisively enriched ‘horn culture.’ Now 90 years old, Rollins no longer performs. The saxophone colossus is silent. Yet he still has much to say.
“I used to be quite disappointed with life… it took me some time to really handle it. It wasn’t easy. But eventually I accepted it. As a matter of fact I’ll celebrate the fact that I did have a career and I was able to do music all of my life.”
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