Sonny Rollins Ambushed By The New Yorker

This comment, posted by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins on his Twitter page, would seem to say it all.

The joke in question was a piece, published in that once-distinguished periodical, THE NEW YORKER, suggestively entitled, Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words, which purported to be made up of direct quotes by the artist, and which bespoke the lame, self-congratulatory, frat-boy mentality of their author, but more disturbingly, something quite sinister in its mocking dismissal of America’s greatest original art form—let alone one of its most revered innovators, a man feted by American Presidents, and beloved the wide world over.

“Oh, lighten up, Chip, it was just a joke. Anyone could see that. I laughed my ass off. God, jazz fans take themselves so damn seriously.”

Yes, there it is. Turn the controversy on its head and deflect outrage away from the authors of this feast, and in the general direction of those whom you have wounded. After all, it was only satire.

Alas, that dog won’t hunt.

Had the tone of the piece not been so hurtful and clichéd; if the humor were even vaguely discernible to the naked eye, would THE NEW YORKER have been deluged by such a firestorm of outrage; would the editors (scrambling to cover their ass by erecting a flimsy litigation dome about the crash site) have felt compelled to post an Express Mail disclaimer, seemingly invoking the spirit of proofreading intern Lawrence Welk (subsequently corrected):

 Editor’s note: This article, which is part of our Shouts & Murmurs humor blog, is a work a satire.

 And-a one, and-a two…

I mean, picture if you will Mister Sonny Rollins, minding his own business, ensconced in his new home in Woodstock, New York, reading, studying, and, as is his wont, P-R-A-C-T-I-C-I-N-G: practicing in the devotional sense; practicing in the search for transcendence; practicing for the sheer love of love of jazz; practicing for the joy of being at one with his tenor saxophone; practicing with a purpose—practicing in anticipation of returning to the arena of live performance in 2015, feeling as he does that there is yet so much left to accomplish, so much music with which he might flesh out and fulfill his legacy.

One would think that after seven decades of inspiration and innovation that Sonny’s enduring legacy of spontaneous invention and transformational experiences–a legacy of promulgating the joy and dignity, the intellectual challenges and artistic integrity of jazz–would be simply unassailable.



Well, honk-honk, you’d be wrong.

You’d think from the smug, slapdash manner in which THE NEW YORKER editors invoked their one-size-fits-all, litigation-proof posture of s-a-t-i-r-e, that they regarded hack hall-of-famer Django Gold as the second coming of H.L Mencken, Ring Lardner and Dorothy Parker. Or that his cornball take on jazz had any basis in reality, humorous or otherwise.

Whitney Balliett

Spit To Be Tied: Whitney Balliett

I mean, this is the same publication, which from 1954-until-2001 (when he was unceremoniously shown the door), published the book reviews and elegant jazz musings of Whitney Balliett, who as a man of letters, understood that the cultural, intellectual and poetic foundations of jazz—both of the art form itself and of its most iconic practitioners, from Armstrong and Ellington, through Rollins and Coltrane–were inseparable from the greater fabric of the American experience in general–and of New York in particular.

I mean, God forbid Balliett should get wind of this mean-spirited, amateurishly executed piss-take from his time-share in the outer quadrants of the Andromeda Galaxy.

We’d be compelled to disinter his Earthly remains and mount them on a rotisserie spit, so as he might brown evenly on all sides whilst spinning in his grave.

Do you suppose that a dictionary definition of satire might afford us an insight into what David Remnick’s cadre of whimsical humorists might have had in mind when they zeroed in on Sonny Rollins as a source of fun for the whole family?

Satire: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity.

Some common synonyms for satire: mockery, ridicule, derision, caricature…scorn.

I’m sure that if Lady Remnick deigned to descend from his perch high atop Trendsetters Valhalla to engage the enraged mob, he’d counter as to how the following synonyms may also be referenced to connote satire: parody, burlesque, caricature, lampoon…

Perhaps I simply lack the aesthetic distance with which to best imbibe the cutting, intoxicating wit of Django Gold.  To invoke his equal, we needs return to the halcyon days of Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay, A Modest Proposal, wherein he proposed a perfectly logical solution to Great Britain’s post-Cromwellian Irish Problem (hell, as late as the American Civil War, signs in Manhattan specified, “No Dogs, Irish or Niggers”).

”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled…”

Fast forward to the city of New York, not long after the abdication of his Holiness, Cardinal Bloomberg; to the July 31, 2014 edition of a publication claiming to be THE NEW YORKER, and it’s Daily Shouts blog.  Let the hilarity ensue:

“Jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with. The band starts a song, but then everything falls apart and the musicians just play whatever they want for as long they can stand it. People take turns noodling around, and once they run out of ideas and have to stop, the audience claps. I’m getting angry just thinking about it.”

Stop, you’re killin’ me, Django. That tried and true “jazz ain’t nothing but a pride of noodling niggers” quip never gets old, does it? Please, take my wife. I needs reach for the Ray Bans so as to bask a moment’s longer in thine penumbra. As Don Rickles’ wife Barbara might put it, “Is that about it?”

“I really don’t know why I keep doing this. Inertia, I guess. Once you get stuck in a rut, it’s difficult to pull yourself out, even if you hate every minute of it. Maybe I’m just a coward.”

Plainly it requires a special cut of Ivy League refinement to craft such a righteous bitch-slapping…in your face, and clearly Sonny Rollins had it coming, the pretentious ol’ pickaninny. Do the name Ruby Begonia mean anything to you?  Somebody, please, sample me a drummer (the real ones are too stupid to lay down an actual beat and repeat it over and over and over)–so that I might commence to riffin’, too.  Hit me.

Coming soon to Daily Shouts: Itzhak Perlman In His Own Words

“Hey, ever notice how few Jewish composers there are?  That’s because it’s so much easier to simply buy up the publishing rights.”

Bada-Boom. Hey, I think I’m getting the hang of it.  Straightforward enough–JUST BE A JACKASS.

Now that I’m on a roll, let’s try another…

“Johann Sebastian Bach is the most overrated composer in the history of western music. He’s racked up more press because the goyim go for all of that sacred music he cranked out in between impregnating his wives to the tune of twenty children. When I think of all the time I wasted on those Solo Violin Partitas, when I could have been doing something constructive, like deep knee bends, or finally finishing Mein Kampf.”

Or as Tony Curtis’ conniving Lieutenant Holden might’ve observed to Cary Grant’s Commander Sherman in Operation Petticoat, “We’d say you were making your point the hard way, Chip”  All in a day’s work for The Satire Brigade.

Still, by what thought-process was Fool’s Gold’s derogatory, petty piss-take thought worthy of publication?  And what so ever did Sonny Rollins do to precipitate such disrespect?

Were Django and his posse gathered at some trendy bar down in the Meat-Packing District, imbibing dirty martinis, breaking wind and tossing off witticisms like discarded flowers, as if each of these aromatic effusions were commensurate with Arpege by Lanvin, when they had a vision?

Furthermore, what’s most troubling to this scribe about the whole dreary incident, is that Gold’s editor-in-chief David Remnick is not some Tea Party knuckle-dragger or in any way, shape or form, overtly racist; hell’s bells, he’s the author of King Of The World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of the American Hero.

Muahammad Ali is an American hero? And not Sonny Rollins? Or Duke Ellington? Or Louis Armstrong?  Or a thousand committed artists still walking among us.  Wherefore then the dismissive condescension of Remnick’s hipster brigade?

Again, the note implicit in THE NEW YORKER’S patronizing tone, is one of downright SCORN, which Sonny Rollins so movingly articulated in a series of video responses fashioned with Bret Primack, an engaged, passionate advocate for American musicians who goes by the nom de plume The Jazz Video Guy and helps Sonny with his web site Please note: In his response, Sonny does not linger upon his own ego, anymore than he falls back on talent alone in pursuit of his muse.  Rather, like a young Cassius Clay, facing up to Sonny Liston, Rollins confronts these wimpy journalistic bullies, and gives them what’s for on behalf of his congregation, his people.  His children.


Apparently jazz musicians, black, white or beige, simply don’t know their place and are not worthy of cultural accreditation, let alone respect, from the likes of Remnick & Company; surely not commensurate with the sight of LeBron James rising majestically from the foul line for a slam dunk; the symbolic resonance of two black bucks beating the snot out of each other in ritual combat for the soul of the nation; the zip-coon posturings of some faux gangstas in a post-modern reprise of the old minstrel show; or the specter of moo-cow-pro-temps Kim Kardashian doing chin ups on the swarthy Johnson of some lucky brother, in the most uninspired depiction of fellatio since man first walked erect.

Perhaps the penultimate word belongs to another American Hero, who spoke of his frustrations with the indomitable jazz journalist Nat Hentoff, back in 1965, the night after the Pulitzer Prize Committee showed Duke Ellington their ass and invited him to pucker up. “I’m hardly surprised,” Duke said, “that my music is still without official honor at home. Most Americans still take it for granted that European-based—classical music, if you will—is the only really respectable kind. By and large, in this country, jazz has always been the kind of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.”

Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown, by Chuck Stewart

 And now for something completely different.

Posted in radiofreechip
One comment on “Sonny Rollins Ambushed By The New Yorker
  1. KevinHot says:

    Rollins’s wife, Lucille, supported them by working as a secretary in the physics department at New York University. Rollins was practicing yoga and reading spiritual texts—books about Buddhism, Sufism, and especially Rosicrucianism, a complicated belief system based on esoteric manifestos devised by a secret brotherhood of alchemists and sages. He maintains that his time on the bridge was about musical expansion, exclusively; Rollins had mastered the reigning form, but he sensed that the entire landscape was about to shift. “These young guys like Ornette Coleman and Coltrane were coming up. I told myself, ‘Sonny, you better get your shit together, because these cats have something to say,’ ” he recalled in an interview with
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