That deep bold hypnotic tone is immediately recognized as the NEA Jazz Master tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. After recording more than 60 albums as a leader, in his seven-decade career, he is easily considered one of the most significant jazz musicians in history. Some of his many compositions such as “St. Thomas,” Doxy,” “Oleo” and “Pent-Up House” have become jazz standards. In 1958, he appeared in Art Kane’s “A Great Day in Harlem” photograph of 57 jazz musicians, who gathered in front of 17 E. 126th St. (between Fifth and Madison Avenue). He and Benny Golson are the only two surviving musicians from the photograph. The Harlem native attended Stitt J.H.S and graduated from Benjamin Franklin H.S. Today, a 15-story apartment building named “The Rollins” stands on the Grand Street site where he lived.
Since 1983 there have been nine books written on Rollins; one of the last was “Sonny Rollins: Meditating on a Riff” (Kamama Books, 2018) written by former New York Daily News staffer, jazzman and activist Hugh Wyatt, who recently transitioned in 2021.
Most recently the author/music writer Aidan Levy offered his contribution to Rollins’ life with his book “SAXOPHONE COLOSSUS: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins” (Hachette Books, 2022). On Dec. 7 at 7 p.m., Levy will discuss his full-length biography of the great saxophonist at Revolution Book Store, 437 Malcolm X Blvd. at 132nd Street. He will discuss some of the important sections noted in the book, such as how Rollins used jazz to advance the Civil Rights Movement and promote environmental consciousness and Rollins’ relationships with mentor Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie.
On Dec. 11 Revolution Books will host author Jeffrey Scales as he discusses his book “In a Time of Panthers: Early Photographs.” The book features early photographs of the Black Panthers working in the community with elders, teaching children at their initiated school programs, participating in the community patrol program and many of their invaluable instituted programs for the community.
Melanie Dyer is an intoxicating musician who creatively combines her years of classical experience with improvised exhilarating journeys. Her latest album, “Love in the Form of Sacred Outrage,” gives us a mix of classical and avant-garde music with her longtime group WeFreeStrings, featuring violinists Charles Burnham and Gwen Lester, cellist Alexander Waterman, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Michael Wimberly. The album is a colored fabric of spirituality-weaved rhythms of committed activism for now, in a country where voting rights are being rescinded and books are being banned. Three of the four tracks were composed by Dyer, with “Pretty Flowers” written by noted saxophonist/flautist Andrew Lamb. The opening track “Baraka Suite” (for Amiri Baraka) is in four movements for a listening time of 25:47 minutes.
“Some time ago I was inspired after reading Amiri’s anthology and wrote some music which turned into a suite as a tribute which we performed with dancers and narrative for a program presented by Arts for Art,” explained Dyer. The title cut “Love in the Form of Sacred Outrage” (for Fannie Lou Hamer) was inspired after Dyer heard a WBAI-FM broadcast on the life and work of the Mississippi-born voting and women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. She was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. What inspired and outraged Dyer most during this radio broadcast was Hamer’s brutal encounter in Winona, Miss. where she and her colleagues (that included teenagers) were arrested and beaten by police. Hamer needed more than a month to recuperate from the beatings and never fully recovered. “It was with incredible courage and love that Hamer and activists decided to advocate for justice and life at all cost,” said Dyer. “It is all about outrage against crimes against humanity.” The fourth and final cut is “Propagating the Same Type of Madness, that uh” (for Fred Hampton). Hampton was not only the national Black Panther Party chair, he founded the antiracist, anticlassist Rainbow Coalition, a political organization that was inclusive of Blacks, poor whites and Hispanics. He believed in equality for all. “I took that love he had for humanity and tried to interpret the lyricism of his voice; he was about solidarity,” said Dyer.
The music is hard hittin’. WeFreeStrings take on many shades from freedom fighting, downright anger, emotion of tears, intense movement—listen to those bows busy interacting strings holler let’s get it right, don’t forget “Love in the Form of Sacred Outrage” grabs the soul and ignites movement and thought. “In classical music you are following a script and interpreting what is on the page,” says Dyer. “In avant-garde there is an open dialogue and everyone uses their voice individually. It provides you with a subject that allows you to engage in your own voice.”
Dyer says her connection with bassist/violinist Henry Grimes brought her into avant-garde. Since that time, she has collaborated and recorded with the astonishing trio Women with an Axe to Grind (flautist Nicole Mitchell, bassist Joëlle Léandre), the exceptional Heroes are Gang Leaders (led by saxophonist James Brandon Lewis), bassist, poet William Parker and New Muse 4tet. In 2002 Dyer was a regular at the then international celebrity hotspot St. Nick’s Pub where she enjoyed a seven-year stint with piano great Donald Smith Quintet with vocalist Tulivu Donna Cumberbatch, trombonist Frank Lacy, bassist Andy McCloud, drummer Mark Johnson and saxophonist Salim Washington. She continued to work with Washington as part of the 12-member Harlem Arts Ensemble (Ujam, Cadence and CIMP Records.)
She trained with William Lincer (principal violist, New York Philharmonic), Lee Yeingst (principal violist, Colorado Symphony Orchestra), John Jake Kella (NY Metropolitan Opera) and Naomi Fellows (Colorado Symphony Orchestra); and studied viola performance at the LaMont School of Music/University of Denver.
WeFreeStrings is a string/rhythm collective rooted in soulful improvisation which Dyer originally founded in 2011 and this iteration in 2017. “Love in the Form of Sacred Outrage” was recorded on ESP Disc, the same label the phenomenal saxophonist Albert Ayler called home.