Sonny Rollins: Armed Robbery, Rikers Island, and the Return of the Saxophone Colossus
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Sonny Rollins did time at Rikers Island twice: first for armed robbery and again for using dope. He was a fiend and a pickpocket. He nearly got himself killed when he ran to Miles Davis’ defense after a bloody scuffle with a cop outside Birdland. At the same time, Sonny Rollins was universally acknowledged as the greatest living tenor saxophone player. But he wanted to get better. He knew he could kick dope and kick petty crime. He also knew that in doing so, he could improve his own playing. So at the age of 29, at the height of his musical powers, he disappeared. He left thousands of dollars on the table and retreated to the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City, where he practiced nearly every day, alone, for hours at a time – in hopes that his life would turn around. This episode features Copper Nelson on saxophone. For the full list of contributors, visit Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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