Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Honored Mr. Rollins

I don't usually pay that much attention to the Kennedy Center Honors anymore but when I read this year's list of Honorees, a big smile came onto my face. Meryl Streep, Barbara Cook, Yo Yo Ma, and Neil Diamond are all well-deserving but the name that got me was one Theodore "Sonny" Rollins, arguably the greatest Jazz musician alive.

When these awards started in 1978 the Kennedy Center was pretty good about honoring some of the Jazz legends who were still around like Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton.  I have a feeling that is because these people had been huge popular stars that a large portion of the event's live and TV audience would still know. That's changed as the rock-loving Baby Boomer audience has grown up and taken over and country and pop legends have taken the spot the Jazz guys used to have. Yes, the last Jazz musician honored was Dave Brubeck only two years ago, but before that the previous one was Quincy Jones in 2001 and honestly Jones' biggest fame comes from his pop production work, especially with Michael Jackson.  Before him the last hardcore jazz name was Benny Carter in 1996.

Acknowledging Sonny as a great American artist like this is a great honor for the entire Jazz field. Today may be his 81st birthday but from all reports he is still the astounding presence on tenor that he has been since the Fifties. I have read noting but raves about his 80th birthday concert last year, part of which is about to be released as a CD on his own label. For a little while jazz should be getting a little mainstream publicity coming from one of its greatest and most vital names. Now if this trend keeps up, might they honor Ornette Coleman next year?...Yeah, I know. I'm dreaming.  Still, congrats Sonny...

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