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Sonny Rollins Named 2010 Edward MacDowell Medalist, First Jazz Composer to Be So Named
(Published: March 01, 2010)

The MacDowell Colony, the nation's leading artist residency program, will present its 51st Edward MacDowell Medal to jazz composer and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins on Sunday, August 15. The MacDowell Medal has been awarded annually since 1960 to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to his/her field, and this year marks the first time the Colony has recognized the field of jazz. Rollins joins an impressive list of past recipients, including Leonard Bernstein, Alice Munro, I.M. Pei, Merce Cunningham, and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Beginning at 12:15 pm, the award ceremony will take place on The MacDowell Colony grounds, which will be open to the public for the festivities and celebration. Robert MacNeil, chairman of The MacDowell Colony, will award the Medal, along with Cheryl Young, executive director. MacDowell Fellow and preeminent jazz writer and critic Gary Giddins, this year's presentation speaker, will introduce Rollins and describe his life and work to the audience.

"I'm proud and pleased to be selected to receive this very special prize," Rollins said. "Edward MacDowell's spirit engaged me many years ago when, as a child, I was inspired by his composition ‘To a Wild Rose.' Later, I had the opportunity to make it a part of my repertoire, performing it on many occasions and eventually recording it. Somehow I feel I'm getting to meet him again."

In naming Rollins the 2010 Medalist, Giddins, also chairman of this year's Medalist Selection Committee, said, "Much as The MacDowell Colony represents to countless artists a matchless paradise for inspired, uninterrupted creativity, this year's Medalist represents the zenith of his art. Perhaps more than any other artist since World War II, Sonny Rollins has personified the fearless adventure, soul, wit, stubborn individuality, and relentless originality that is jazz at its finest. From the time he began recording, at 19, he was recognized as a major talent; his innovative approach to the tenor saxophone was endlessly copied, and his original compositions frequently adapted. But in jazz, composer and performer are often one and the same, and perhaps his key achievement has been the forging of an improvisational method that has given the idea of theme-and-variations a renewed vitality. His singular music is at once reassuring in its fortitude and daring in its detours. Incapable of faking emotion or settling for rote answers to the challenges of creating music in the moment, he keeps us ever-alert to the power of the present."

Joining Giddins on the committee were composer and founder of the Skymusic Ensemble, Carman Moore; composer, musician, and noted professor Dr. Valerie Capers; and Dan Morgenstern, GRAMMY Award-winning jazz historian, critic, and current director of Rutgers University's Institute of Jazz Studies.

Called the "greatest living tenor saxophone player" by The New York Times and "the greatest remaining master from one of jazz's seminal eras" by the 2007 Polar Music Prize committee, Rollins has had a profound impact on music during a long and storied career that began with his first recordings as a sideman in 1949. Rollins has since been honored with a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and, in 2007, the Polar Prize in Music, one of the most prestigious music awards in the world. In 2009, he was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art. One of Austria's highest honors, the award is given to leading international figures for distinguished achievements. The only other American artists who have received this recognition are Frank Sinatra and Jessye Norman.

Since the inception of the Edward MacDowell Medal, the Colony has rotated it among its seven artistic disciplines. Rollins is the 14th Medalist in music composition, but the very first in the field of jazz. He follows such luminaries as Aaron Copland (1961), Edgard Varèse (1965), Roger Sessions (1968), William Schuman (1971), Walter Piston (1974), Virgil Thomson (1977), Samuel Barber (1980), Elliott Carter (1983), Leonard Bernstein (1987), David Diamond (1991), George Crumb (1995), Lou Harrison (2000), and Steve Reich (2005).

In its 102-year history, MacDowell has provided Fellowships to more than 950 composers, including Bernstein and Copland, as well as other well-known artists such as Anthony Davis, Lukas Foss, Meredith Monk, Paul Moravec, Ned Rorem, and Duncan Sheik. These composers are part of the more than 6,500 artists from all disciplines who have worked at the Colony, including playwrights Thornton Wilder and Suzan-Lori Parks; visual artists Benny Andrews and Milton Avery; writers Willa Cather, Alice Walker, and Alice Sebold; and architects Les Robertson and Tom Kundig.

Following this year's Medal Day ceremony, guests can enjoy picnic lunches on Colony grounds. MacDowell artists-in-residence will then open their studios to the public from 2 pm until 5 pm. There is no charge to attend Medal Day.

Sonny Rollins will resume his 2010 performance schedule in April, with concerts in Detroit (4/6), Chicago (4/9), Boston (4/18), Seattle (5/10), Berkeley (5/13), Los Angeles (5/16), Davis CA (5/19), and Burlington VT (6/12). He'll appear at the Winnipeg (6/23), Montreal (6/27), North Sea (7/11), Perugia (7/16), and Molde (7/20) Jazz Festivals, and will perform three concerts in Japan in early October. A European tour is being finalized for November. Rollins is also planning a special New York concert around his September 7th birthday and expects to announce details by early spring.

More Information: http://www.sonnyrollins.com,http://www.macdowellcolony.org

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