Saxophone Colossus Cover
The long-awaited first full biography of legendary jazz saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins, chronicling the gripping story of a freedom fighter and spiritual seeker whose life has been as much of a thematic improvisation as his music
Sonny Rollins has long been considered an enigma. Known as the “Saxophone Colossus,” he is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest jazz improvisers of all time, winning Grammys, the Austrian Cross of Honor, Sweden’s Polar Music Prize and a National Medal of Arts. A bridge from bebop to the avant-garde, he is a lasting link to the golden age of jazz, pictured in the iconic “Great Day in Harlem” portrait. His seven-decade career has been well documented, but the backstage life of the man once called “the only jazz recluse” has gone largely untold—until now.
Based on more than 200 interviews with Rollins himself, family members, friends, and collaborators, as well as Rollins’ extensive personal archive,Saxophone Colossusis the comprehensive portrait of this legendary saxophonist and composer, civil rights activist and environmentalist. A child of the Harlem Renaissance, Rollins’ precocious talent landed him on the bandstand and in the recording studio with Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, or playing opposite Billie Holiday. An icon in his own right, he recordedTenor Madness ;Freedom Suite ; and the 1956 classic Saxophone Colossus.
Yet his meteoric rise to fame was not without its challenges. He served two sentences on Rikers Island and won his battle with heroin addiction. In 1959, Rollins took a two-year sabbatical from recording and performing, practicing up to 16 hours a day on the Williamsburg Bridge. In 1968, he left again to study at an ashram in India. He returned to performing from 1971 until his retirement in 2012.
The story of Sonny Rollins—innovative, unpredictable, larger than life—is the story of jazz itself, and Sonny’s own narrative is as timeless and timely as the art form he represents. Part jazz oral history told in the musicians’ own words, part chronicle of one man’s quest for social justice and spiritual enlightenment, this is the definitive biography of one of the most enduring and influential artists in jazz and American history.

Saxophone Colossus
The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins

Praise for Saxophone Colossus

“Sonny Rollins told stories through his horn.  His ‘telling,’ no matter how intricate or elaborate, was always pure, honest, and vulnerable, while the storyteller himself remained elusive and intangible.  Until now.  In Aidan Levy, Mr. Rollins has found his chronicler, an immensely talented writer whose lyricism, mastery, and dedication to truth matches that of his subject.  The result is an opera, a calypso, a magnificent symphony that captures All of Him: Sonny, Newk, Theodore, Wally, Brung Biji, and the one and only Saxophone Colossus.”Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

“When I was a boy, I knew nothing of Sonny Rollins, the man, but his music set me free. Now, forty-some-odd years later, this book has gifted me a profound, almost revelatory, appreciation of all it took for our singularly Great American Improviser to exist, to persist, to survive, to thrive, to comprehend, to transcend, to create, to liberate, to be — at once the towering, omnipotent, immortal Colossus and the humble, gentle, questioning, questing human. Sonny Rollins has always been the master storyteller of the jazz idiom. What an illuminative joy it is to finally read the story of his own life so exhaustively and engagingly told.”Joshua Redman, Grammy-nominated saxophonist, composer, and educator

“Sonny Rollins is the most acclaimed and celebrated jazz musician alive. His fearless creativity and willingness to test his limits are the stuff of legends, as are his modesty, discipline and self-criticism. With deep research and meticulous documentation, Levy, with the aid of Rollins, gives us a revelatory and richer picture of the man and his era. A colossus of a book.” John Szwed, author of Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra

“In this forensically researched biography of an American hero, the elusive Sonny Rollins stands revealed not only as the great Jazz Maker but a man of profundity and passions. By combining the story of his rise as a Saxophone Colossus with a picture of the Black artist in an age when social progress was not necessarily a given, Levy has produced a memorable book.”Val Wilmer, author of As Serious As Your Life: Black Music and the Free Jazz Revolution, 1957-1977

“The life and music of Sonny Rollins as chronicled by acclaimed author Aidan Levy is an insightful view into the daily struggles, achievements and spiritual journey of whom I like to refer to as the ‘Maestro di Maestri,’ Mr. Sonny Rollins. All I can say is:
You will be enlightened as I am.”
 Joe Lovano, saxophonist, composer, producer, educator and Grammy winner

“Aidan Levy has provided the jazz world and beyond an important documentation of one of the greatest musicians of all time. Sonny Rollins spoke his own language through the saxophone–just check out his solo on ‘Alfie’! And Saxophone Colossus provides for us in words a portal to deeper understanding of this legendary jazz giant!”Terri Lyne Carrington, Grammy-winning drummer, composer, producer, educator, and founder of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice

“[The] authoritative book on Rollins . . . among the best-researched books ever devoted to jazz.” — Lewis Porter (Grammy-nominated pianist, composer, educator, and author of John Coltrane: His Life and Music), Playback with Lewis Porter

Dirty Blvd.
The Life and Music of Lou Reed

Praise for Dirty Blvd.

“Reading Aidan Levy’s Dirty Blvd. is like rolling down lower Broadway after a tickertape parade, a nocturne for Lou Reed piled high with twinkling treasures, dark skeins of insight, and drifts of American excess. It’s a night of a thousand eyes, a book of deep focus, peering with the rapt intent of a biography and the empathy of a memoir. Born of Jewish parents who hoped to assimilate, Lou was a man who could not.  From shock treatment he lunged into shock-rock, singing and living like a rat poet caught in a trap. Levy finds it all on this boulevard, searching for Lou’s art with his own heart where it clearly still lives and breathes. And if, as Lou’s life-mate said with his parting, we die a final death the last time someone utters our name, then Levy has done his part to keep that name forever on our lips. A startling, beautiful and defiant literary debut. Rock this book!”  —Stephen Molton, screenwriter, producer, professor and author, Brave Talk and Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder, co-written with Gus Russo

“Lou Reed was much more than ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and glam rock. He was the voice of the disaffected and the disenchanted, the scourge of comfort and convention, the enfant terrible of literary rock, and, very often, one of the great tender-hearted poets of New York City. Aidan Levy shines a light into unexamined corners of this singular life and enlarges our sense of his subject’s spiky unforgettable character.” 

—Peter Blauner, bestselling author, Slipping into Darkness and Slow Motion Riot

“A valuable study of Reed, further cementing his totemic influence as the high priest of art rock.” Kirkus Reviews 

“This skillfully written and respectful biography takes us through Reed’s life and career . . . . Levy has produced an informative and insightful look at a rock star and songwriter whose work always cut a little deeper than that of his peers.” Booklist

 “Levy does a splendid job debunking the myths surrounding the musician . . . .  this study is about as close to a must-read book on Reed as one can get.” Library Journal

“Surprisingly, though, the keeper is Dirty Blvd., by Aidan Levy, a writer with a forceful, poetic bent and cultural antennae that quiver ecstatically at the signifiers in Reed’s aesthetics and those of the complex culture around him. As you read it you notice, again and again, a modest reportorial zeal that uncovers key mysteries of Reed’s life. It loses its momentum (as Reed’s career did) in the last 20 years of his life, but all in all it’s a virtuoso rock biography.” Bill Wyman, Vulture

“In the first major biography of Reed since his 2013 death and subsequent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Levy throws a literary lasso on the many facets of his career.” —Bob Ruggiero, Houston Press

Lou Reed made it his mission to rub people the wrong way, whether it was with the noise rock he produced with the Velvet Underground in the late 1960s or his polarizing work with Metallica that would prove to be his swan song. On a personal level, too, he seemed to take pleasure in insulting everyone who crossed his path. How did this Jewish boy from Long Island, an adolescent doo-wop singer, rise to the status of Godfather of Punk? And how did he maintain that status for decades?


Dirty Blvd. digs deep to answer those questions. And along the way it shows us the tender side of his prickly personality. Born in Brooklyn, Reed was the son of an accountant and a former beauty queen, but he took the road less traveled, trading literary promise for an entry-level job as a budget-label songwriter and founding the Velvet Underground under the aegis of Andy Warhol. The cult of personality surrounding his transformation from downtown agent provocateur to Phantom of Rock and finally to patron saint of the avant-garde was legendary, but there was more to his artistic evolution than his abrasive public persona. The lives of many American rock stars have had no second act, but Reed’s did.


Dirty Blvd. not only covers the highlights of Reed’s career but also explores lesser-known facets of his work, such as his first recordings with doo-wop group the Jades, his key literary influences and the impact of Judaism upon his work, and his engagement with the LGBT movement. Drawing from new interviews with many of his artistic collaborators, friends, and romantic partners, as well as from archival material, concert footage, and unreleased bootlegs of live performances, Dirty Blvd. paints an intimate portrait of the notoriously uncompromising rock poet who wrote “Heroin,” “Sweet Jane,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” and “Street Hassle”—songs that transcended their genre and established Lou Reed as one of the most influential American artists of the past half-century.

From the moment Patti Smith burst onto the scene, chanting “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” the irreverent opening line to Horses, her 1975 debut album, the punk movement had found its dissident intellectual voice. Yet outside the recording studio—Smith has released eleven studio albums—the punk poet laureate has been perhaps just as revelatory and rhapsodic in interviews, delivering off-the-cuff jeremiads that emboldened a generation of disaffected youth and imparting hard-earned life lessons. With her characteristic blend of bohemian intellectualism, antiauthoritarian poetry, and unflagging optimism, Smith gave them hope in the transcendent power of art. Her interview archive serves as a compelling counternarrative to the albums and books. Initially, interviewing Patti Smith was a censorship liability. Contemptuous of staid rules of decorum, no one knew what she might say, whether they were getting the romantic, swooning for Lorca and Blake, or the firebrand with no respect for an on-air seven-second delay. Patti Smith on Patti Smith is a compendium of profound and reflective moments in the life of one of the most insightful and provocative artists working today.

Patti Smith on Patti Smith
Interviews and Encounters

Praise for Patti Smith on Patti Smith

“Here is Patti Smith: wise-cracking and meditative; funny and profound; flippant, provocative and wise. What a treat it is to read these interviews, lovingly and expertly curated by Aidan Levy. Fans and scholars alike will drink deep from this collection, which covers every aspect of Patti Smith’s artistic life: from her days as an aspiring poet in the early 1970s to the years of alt rock stardom, and from her resurgence as a musician and author in the late 1980s and 1990s to her post-millennial incarnation as a highly respected memoirist, cultural commentator and political activist . . . More now than ever, we would do well to attend to Patti Smith, both on the page and on the record: this collection gives us the artist in full.”—Philip Shaw, author of Patti Smith’s Horses

“The interviews housed in this book evoke the beautiful arc of Smith’s career. From groundbreaking punk pioneer to latter-day disruptor, Levy highlights the importance of her voice not only in performance but also in prose. A comprehensive reference for those wanting to experience Smith on the page if they can’t see her on the stage.”—Eric Wendell, author of Patti Smith: America’s Punk Rock Rhapsodist

Revealing and poignant moments abound . . .[a] readily devoured addition to the superb Musicians in Their Own Words series. Singer, artist, and writer Smith is an ideal subject.” Booklist (starred review)

“Patti Smith tore through the music world like a dervish in the ’70s, quoting Rimbaud, Jagger, and Whitman with equal verve, blowing up gender stereotypes and notions of class while making music that fused high and low culture. She was word obsessed, and Aidan Levy is up to the task of curating those words, via interviews spanning her days as a young, fierce poet, to the serene, post-punk memoirist of today.” —Susan Whitall, author of Joni on Joni and Fever: Little Willie John’s Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul

“Aidan Levy has done us all a big favor by brilliantly contextualizing five decades’ worth of Patti Smith’s outrageous, hilarious, and consistently surprising interviews. Here is a Smith who practically hijacks the interview so she can turn it into a performance, a talk-poem, a shamanic possession, an improvisation as breathtaking as one of Charlie Parker’s best. Patti Smith on Patti Smith proves Smith’s tough-talking madcap shtick is as good as her Horses.” —Daniel Kane, author of Do You Have a Band? Poetry and Punk Rock in New York City

“VERDICT. An illuminating compilation and study of an American artistic treasure. This study is both a finely wrought biographical snapshot and an opportunity to sit in on conversations with one of the sharpest and most provocative minds of our time.” —Library Journal (starred review)