Oberlin Conservatory of Music [13 Nov 2017]: In a career spanning seven decades, Sonny Rollins has left an indelible mark on the international jazz world. Now the saxophone legend and composer has done the same for Oberlin.
This fall, Rollins designated a generous gift to Oberlin College and Conservatory for the purpose of establishing and maintaining the Oberlin Conservatory of Music Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble Fund.
A phenom in the jazz world while still in his teens, Rollins was already playing and recording with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell by his early twenties. His gift to Oberlin grew out of his friendship with author and musician James McBride, a 1979 graduate of Oberlin College. The gift was made in recognition of the institution’s long legacy of access and social justice advocacy. In particular, Rollins was moved by Oberlin’s place as the first institution of higher learning to adopt a policy to admit students of color and the first to confer degrees to women, and by the contributions of alumni such as Will Marion Cook, a black violinist and composer who graduated in 1888 and who went on to become an important teacher and mentor to Duke Ellington.
Commitment to inclusive excellence and social impact remain foundational to Oberlin’s educational mission, just as Rollins has long derived meaning through service to his fellow man.
“That the legendary Sonny Rollins—an artist of truly extraordinary accomplishment, soulfulness, and character—would entrust Oberlin to steward his legacy is the highest honor, and deeply humbling,” says Dean of the Conservatory Andrea Kalyn. “We are so very grateful to James McBride—whose own life and work stands in testament to Oberlin’s values—for shepherding this gift, which has a singular power to demonstrate for our students the full dimension of their obligation as musicians in this world, to inspire them to fulfill that obligation far beyond their years as students, and so to advance Oberlin’s own legacy of impact.”
Beginning in spring 2018, Oberlin jazz studies majors may audition for the Oberlin Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble—“The Sonny Ensemble.” More than a mere spot in an elite unit, membership in the ensemble requires a commitment to service through music and willingness to give for others—core principles exemplified by Rollins throughout his life and career.
“The humanity element has to be a big presence in everything young players do,” says Rollins, now 87. “People are hungry for a reason to live and to be happy. We’re asking these young musicians to look at the big picture, to tap into the universal power of a higher spirit, so they can give people what they need. Giving back to others teaches inner peace and inner spirituality. Everything is going to be open for them if they devote themselves in this way.”
Each ensemble member’s commitment will be memorialized in the Sonny Scholar Ledger, a volume that declares each musician’s adherence to the principle of giving. The cover of the ledger is emblazoned with these words from Rollins: “Trust that later on in life, there’s something bigger for you when you serve others.”
The first signature is that of Rollins.
To read the complete article with more Information on how to enroll visit the Oberlin Conservatories website.