SONNY ROLLINS AND VLADIMIR ZIMMERLING’S “SAX PLAYER” 1965

Vladimir Zimmerling’s sculpture portrait “SAX PLAYER” (1965) has its prototype. It is the distinguished tenor sax player Sonny Rollins aka Colossus (b. 1930). In the catalogue of Vladimir Zimmerling’s first personal exhibition (1985) this portrait is listed just as “SAX PLAYER”, but the author never concealed that he had Sonny Rollins in mind. The sculptor did not have a chance to hear Sonny live. Moreover, I doubt that Sonny Rollins ever had been in the USSR. However, he toured in Europe in 1965, and some recording from that tour are still available on YouTube. Vladimir Zimmerling was a music lover and a record collector. His main interest was classical music, but he also loved jazz and used opportunities to get foreign LP records or copy them on tape. The official Soviet ideology in the 1960-s was rotten and even some reputable academic musicians believed that jazz is crap. But these people also told their students that Mahler is a bad composer. Vladimir Zimmerling had a different opinion.

The portrait  reflects a characteristic head-and-neck posture with a head thrown back.   As one can see, neither a mouth-piece nor the body of the sax are shown but they can be “read”.  The same trick is used by Vladimir Zimmerling in the much later work, the “FLUTIST” (1997) from the “ANTIQUE SUITE” series.

Vladimir Zimmerling. “A SAX PLAYER”, 1965.

This art work by a sculptor who never met the portrayed musician is probably the first sculpture portrait of Sonny Rollins. I have doubt that Sonny ever heard of it. Theoretically he had a chance, since the first paper on Vladimir Zimmerling appeared the next year (1966) in English, in the Soviet-American illustrated journal “Soviet life” (1966, № 12). But the journalist Andrei Batashev did not mention the “SAX PLAYER” and focused on other portraits by Vladimir Zimmerling – of Bela Bartok (1962), Bertolt Brecht (1961), Sergei Eisenstein (1961) and Lev Landau (1962). A good company, anyway.

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