Sonny Rollins - Brave New World

Sonny Rollins is full of surprises. Now well into his seventies, he has broken out on his own by setting up his own record label and arranging a distribution deal. As the first record, Sonny, Please, on his new label Doxy is released, Keith Shadwick finds out from Sonny the motivation he has for starting out on this new course and finds out that there could be some surprises to come on the label with a whole new archive of historic recordings now possible for release. Sonny Rollins - Brave New World
Few would be tempted to dispute Sonny Rollins’s pre-eminence in jazz today. His whole career has been played out against a background of critical and public admiration and, while he is now in his late 70s, every concert he plays is sold out and few go home from a Sonny Rollins gig disappointed.

Unfortunately the story is not the same as far as his records go. While there have certainly been some great highlights over the past few decades, one would have to stretch back to 1961’s The Bridge or (at a pinch) 1965’s Alfie to find a record that is universally accepted as one of his greatest. That’s a long time ago, and while there are releases that attract special pleading from various quarters to be included amongst his greatest recorded efforts (1982’s Sunny Days, Starry Nights is my candidate and an album I still get a huge kick out of), any realist is going to concede that they will not attract universal support for their advocacy. Given this, Sonny’s move into running Doxy, his own record company, is one that could be called intriguing.

Against the backdrop of the recent death of his wife and career partner Lucille and the takeover of the Fantasy/Concord group by Universal, to say that such a departure is unexpected is to undershoot by a considerable margin. Talking to him on the phone at his upstate New York farm, I asked him about the reasoning behind the decision to go for such a project at this time. There was also the question of why he’d issued Doxy’s first release, Sonny, Please as an album which had no distribution to traditional outlets such as retail shops. It turned out to be the old question of an artist more closely controlling the fruits of his labours. It was also, quite remarkably, an example of an artist looking to contemporary technology for his commercial future.

“I’d like Doxy to eventually be able to exist successfully from the website, selling mail-order. I think, for a small company like us, this is the future. Right now we need retail distribution as well and I’m glad that’s been finalised through Universal. But we sell plenty of our record at gigs, too. It’s a traditional way of doing thing, but it’s an important outlet for us.”

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