Music writer Britt Robson posits in the Rake that the fame and influence of jazz artists like Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter have been diminished because they didn’t flame out young like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. “The persevering excellence of Rollins and Shorter is equally heroic,” Robson writes, “and should be equally emblematic of jazz sainthood.”
Robson’s article, “Honorable Exit: Dying Well Is the Best Revenge,” begins with a moving account of his mother dying before his eyes. From there he moves gracefully into an approachable survey of the course of modern jazz and a critique of the kind of easy celebrity that has come to jazz greats who have died young.
“Among all of the claptrap surrounding death in our culture,” he writes, “only some of it involves our fears and ignorance of the dying process.” He calls upon elder statesmen such as Rollins and Shorter to confront this fear and ignorance by building into their new work an awareness of their impending deaths, a quality Robson finds in Pilgrimage, the last album made by the late tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker. —Jason Ericson