Composer Steve Reich looked like the consummate New Yorker baseball cap, three-quarter length jacket with the upturned collar to guard against the chilly air and sensible walking shoes. Yet the difference in him was that he was all smiles.
This was his night, along with jazz icon tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, at a reception honoring their lifetime of musical achievements. Both men are this year’s recipients of the Polar Music Prize Award presented by The Royal Swedish Academy of Music. The official announcement was made January 25 in Stockholm. Tonight’s shindig on Park Avenue was the kick-off to months of celebrations, as well as a weekend of exhibits, workshops, film screenings and live performances planned around the gala ceremony in Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall on May 21 where Mr. Reich and Mr. Rollins will receive their monetary prizes from His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
As guests and friends appeared, warmly greeted and doted upon by a most friendly waitstaff, so did Mr. Rollins. Well dressed and joyful in appearance, he spoke with a few acquaintances and then ascended the stairs to the second floor library where he and Mr. Reich would spend a considerable amount of the evening conducting interviews. As Ambassador Ulf Hjertonsson, Consul General and our host for the evening, pointed out the artwork of Swedish artist Ulrik Samuelson against the side wall of the reception area, beside it ran the announcement video of the awards. It was a reminder amidst trays of tasty wines and succulent hors d’oeuvres of why we were all there. Ambassador Hjertonsson, who resides in the Consulate, has the role of promoting Swedish culture as well as business and technology in America. This country is a voracious consumer of Swedish exports films by Ingmar Bergman, IKEA home products and recipients of their philanthropy - The Nobel Prizes. Arguably their most well-known export is the pop group ABBA who dominated AM radio in the mid- and late-‘70’s. Their publisher, lyricist and manager, Stig "Stikkan" Anderson, who was a fan and friend of jazz (he passed away in 1997), made a generous donation to The Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1989 and created what would be named the Polar Music Prize. The international award is given to "individuals, groups or institutions in recognition of exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music. The prize breaks down musical boundaries by bringing together people from all the different worlds of music." Pianist Keith Jarrett, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and producer/bandleader Quincy Jones have been honored with this award.
Lately Reich and Rollins, two native New Yorkers, have been "playing" their dues more than paying them. And truly, it is their time to play.
Steve Reich, whose work utilizes the idea of "repetitiveness or stasis" and explores "the different ways in which a rhythmic figure can move out of phase with itself", was celebrated worldwide throughout 2006 on turning 70. Nonesuch Records released its second boxed set of his music, spanning the 20 years with them, titled Phases A Nonesuch Retrospective. It comprises fourteen of the composer’s best-known pieces, including "Music for 18 Musicians", "Drumming", and "Different Trains".
Theodore Walter "Sonny" Rollins (born September 7, 1930) has been for over sixty years one of the distinguished heralds of jazz. On record, he’s both a fierce and gentle master of the art form. On stage, he’s a brick house of sound. During his career, he’s taken time away to refute aspects of the music industry only to come back and combat it with seminal recordings like The Freedom Suite. Like Mr. Reich, Mr. Rollins has also been "strolling" along with successes and honors as of late. Simultaneously launching his own website and releasing Sonny, Please on his label Doxy Records in 2006, Rollins was presented with the Best Jazz Instrumental Solo award for "Why Was I Born?" at the 48th Grammy Awards. The song is from the live 2005 release Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert. He also received the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2004. His website revolves around Sonny Rollins The Saxophone Colossus and Sonny Rollins The Entrepreneur. Since his business manager, wife Lucille, passed away in 2004, Mr. Rollins has had to work on promoting his work himself. The website reflects good taste, posts up-to-date information on his activities, interviews with colleagues and associates and other resources. The Sonny Rollins Podcasts capture him in performance and on the road. He takes the opportunity of voicing his opinions in the Media Gallery section of the site (where you can hear excerpts of Sonny, Please.) Along with Sonny, Please, other items are for purchase. His Signature Collection will have you nattily dressed in a bucket hat and red-red t-shirt.
Ambassador Hjertonsson interrupted the hobnobbing to give a speech in honor of the awardees. He reminded us that the Polar Music Prize was named after Anderson’s record label, Polar Music:
"The value and esteem of prizes and awards go up and down in this world. "Polar" before "Prize" stems from the record label that Stig "Stikkan" Anderson called Polar Records. But talking about the Polar Prize tonight, I come to think about the Polar Star, which is also the name of our most prestigious royal condecoration. It carries the inscription in Latin "Nescit Occasum", which means it never sets. The Polar Prize will continue to shine by the fame of its world-known founder, Stig "Stikkan" Anderson, an icon in the world of popular music. But this prize also shines constantly like the Northern Polar Star by its great prize winners Tonight I am happy to say that the light of the Polar Prize is even brighter because we have in our midst this year’s great winners Steve Reich and Sonny Rollins."
SONNY ROLLINS THE POLAR MUSIC PRIZE