The Notebooks of Sonny Rollins

New York Review of Books


The Notebooks of Sonny Rollins, edited by Sam V.H. Reese / ISBN 9781681378268 / 176-page paperback published in 2024 by New York Review of Books


An illuminating selection of writings on a wide variety of topics—everything from technique, music theory, and daily routine to spirituality and systemic racism—from the personal journals of Sonny Rollins, master of the tenor saxophone and “jazz’s greatest living improviser” (The New York Times).

Sonny Rollins is one of the towering masters of American music, a virtuoso of the saxophone, and an unequaled improviser whose live performances are legendary and who has reshaped modern jazz time and time again over the course of a career lasting more than sixty years. A turning point in that legendary career came in 1959, when Rollins stepped back from performing and recording to begin a new regime of musical exploration, which saw him practicing for hours, sometimes all through the night, on the Williamsburg Bridge. This was also the moment when he started the notebook that would become a trusted companion in years to come—not a diary so much as a place to ponder art and life and his own search for meaning in words and in images.

At once quotidian and aphoristic, the notebooks mingle lists of chores and rehearsal routines with ruminations on nightclub culture, racism, and the conundrums of the inner life. And always there is the music—questions of embouchure, fingering, and technique; of harmony and dissonance; of his own and others’ art and the art of jazz. “Any definition,” Rollins insists, “which seeks to separate Johann Sebastian Bach from Miles Davis is defeating its own purpose of clarification. . . .The Musings of Miles is then the Bouncing of Bach both played against each other.”

Edited and introduced by the critic and jazz scholar Sam V.H. Reese, The Notebooks of Sonny Rollins provides an unequaled glimpse into the mind and workshop of a musical titan, as well as a wealth of insight and inspiration to readers.

“It is possible to imagine the jazz musician Sonny Rollins’s life as a novel, pitched between realism and surrealism in the manner of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man...He stares at his psyche as if in front of a full-length mirror. He fills the pages with lists — of books to read, of favorite songs, of possible titles for his own books. He deplores his impatience, and his lusting after women. He wants to be more punctual...Rollins was a true eccentric.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

Shop favorites

Recent Arrivals

Art & Design

Discounted Books

Down the rabbit hole...