It’s one of the most romantic stories in music: the jazz star rejecting fame to practise on a New York bridge for two years. Now 91, Rollins recalls those long cold days – and how he has coped after losing the power to play

If you happened to be gazing idly from a window of New York City’s J train crossing the East River on the Williamsburg Bridge, most days between the summer of 1959 and the autumn of 1961, you might have glimpsed a lone saxophonist huddled into a cranny of the gigantic steel skeleton.

Travellers on the footway might have got close to the sound of him, too: an astonishing tumult of fast tumbling runs seeming to echo the chatter of the wheels on the subway tracks, honking low-tone exclamations exchanged with the hoots of the riverboats, snatches of blues, pop hits, classical motifs, calypsos. Few witnesses to those torrential monologues will have shrugged him off as just another busker; this was an intuitive master of his instrument who, for some reason, had chosen to tell this multitude of stories to the sky instead of a rapt roomful of fans.

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