You have lit the flame of aspiration within so many of us

At New York’s The Village Gate in October of 1962, legendary jazz tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins played a rousing set to an audience that included another notable jazz musician: Sonny Rollins. So impressed was Rollins with his idol’s live performance that he later sent the following eloquently worded letter of admiration to Hawkins. A year later, the two joined forces to record Sonny Meets Hawk.

Transcript follows. Many thanks to William Kennedy (Associate Professor of Jazz Studies & Contemporary Media, College of Music, Florida State University).


St. Rollins
195 Willoughby Walk
(Near Grand)
Brooklyn S, N. Y.

10/13/62 P.M.

My Dear Mr. Hawkins,

Your recent performance at the ‘Village Gate’ was magnificent!! Quite aside from the fact that you have maintained a position of dominance and leadership in the highly competitive field of ‘Jazz’ for the time that you have, there remains the more significant fact that such tested and tried musical achievement denotes and is subsidiary to personal character and integrity of being.

There have been many young men of high potential and demonstrated ability who have unfortunately not been ‘MEN’ in their personal and offstage practices and who soon found themselves devoid of the ability to create music. Perhaps these chaps were unable to understand why their musical powers left them so suddenly. Or perhaps they knew what actions were constructive as opposed to destructive but were too weak and not men enough to command the course of their lives. But certain it is that character, knowledge and virtue are superior to ‘MUSIC’ as such. And that ‘success’ is relative to the evolution of those qualities within us all. That it has been positive and lasting for you Coleman is to the high honor and credit of us, your colleagues, as well as to your own credit. For you have ‘lit the flame’ of aspiration within so many of us and you have epitomized the superiority of ‘excellence of endeavor’ and you stand today as a clear living picture and example for us to learn from.

It has always been a task to explain in words these things which in nature are the most profound and meaningful. Now you have shown me why I thought so much of you for so long. Godspeed in your travels and may I be fortunate enough to hear you play the tenor saxophone again in person.

Yours truly

Sonny Rollins