Sonny Rollins

Francis Wolff / Blue Note Records

Labor Day weekend is a time to honor our workers, and the spirit of industry they embody. Of course it also carries other connotations: backyard barbecues, furniture sales and family road trips, for starters.

When thinking about a Labor Day edition of Take Five, I decided to bypass the standard fare — like Cannonball Adderley's “Work Song,” which refers to a different set of circumstances than the one that this holiday commemorates. I looked instead to important jazz artists who were born this week in history, within several days of the holiday.

Francis Wolff / Blue Note Records

One of the greatest jazz albums ever made was recorded 60 years ago today. It's A Night at the Village Vanguard, a live date by saxophonist Sonny Rollins, featuring a muscular backdrop of bass and drums. It's not a carefully plotted concept album, nor a manifesto, but a document with the slangy nonchalance of a conversation overheard on the street, extemporaneous and unburdened. It's a slice of musical vérité that captures a true master of the form on a good day, in a generous and jocular mood.

Ang Santos / WBGO

87-year-old saxophone legend Sonny Rollins donated what’s essentially his life’s work in handwritten papers, documents, video’s and records to the Schomburg Center in Harlem.

“Really what it allows us to do is to continue to get to know him better over the decades whether he’s here with us or not,” said Schola Lynch, curator of the Moving Image and Sound Division at the Schomburg.  Lynch welcomed several dozen members of the public into their new space to view pieces from the Rollins collection.

CHUCK STEWART / COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Saxophone legend Sonny Rollins is attaching his legacy to Harlem in a big way.  He’s donated a life’s worth of writings, recordings and other materials to The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library.  Rollins recently sat down with Jazz Night In America’s Christian McBride and NPR’s Audie Cornish to talk about it.

Sonny Rollins
Chuck Stewart/Courtesy of the artist

Sonny Rollins wasn't really thinking about the formation of an archive as he went about his life and career over the last 60 years — as a tenor saxophonist of unsurpassed stature, an artist of active spiritual and social engagement, and an embodiment of jazz's improvisational ideal.