Review of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge
by Gary Golio; illus. by James Ransome
Primary    Paulsen/Penguin    32 pp.    g
10/21    978-1-9848-1366-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-1367-1    $10.99

When, in 1959, the renowned jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins takes a break from a successful career to hone his skills, he finds the perfect place to do so. Discouraged from practicing in his apartment because the neighbors complain about the noise, Sonny retreats to the ideal setting, NYC’s Williamsburg Bridge, where he ascends the stairs and “strolls above / the sprawling / spider city / with / millions of lives / lights / movement and speed / lots of / sound / & / lots of / noise” to blow his horn as loudly as he pleases. Practicing there for two years, he engages in electrifying call-and-response improvisations with the sounds around him, “tugboats / blowing bass notes / back / and forth / Sonny answering / ­note-for-note / with / low moans / of his / own.” Following the return to his career, he records an album titled The Bridge. Golio is known for his picture-book biographies about musicians (Carlos Santana, rev. 11/18; Dark Was the Night, rev. 8/20), and here his precise and expressive free verse is well paired with Ransome’s (Overground Railroad, rev. 3/20; Northbound, rev. 1/21) evocative art. In beautiful watercolor and collage, Ransome splendidly captures both the vibrant spirit of the city and the luminous persona of the jazzman. Back matter includes information about Rollins’s career and the Williamsburg Bridge as well as some of Rollins’s own words.

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Pauletta Brown Bracy
Pauletta Brown Bracy is professor of library science at North Carolina Central University. She is chair of the 2015-2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards committee and serves on the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee.

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