The Story of Saxophonist Sonny Red

From roughly 1994 to 2006 I researched the life and music of the very unknown and brilliant saxophonist and composer, Sonny Red. This was a labor of love that started after listening to one of Sonny’s early records called “Images.” It wasn’t until I transcribed this entire record of his solos that I realized the simplicity and beauty in Red’s music. His music was firmly rooted in bebop, but still had a very personal, very lyrical approach to the music. It was as if, at times, he was crying through his alto saxophone. The older I get, and the more technical players have become over the years, it’s always a breath of fresh air to go back to Sonny’s records. Sonny was all about playing pretty and swinging. Red wasn’t the next “new thing” but he really meant everything he played, which is something of a lost art form today.

The book includes an oral narrative of his life through the words of many family members and musicians that knew him well. I am eternally thankful to Nicole Kyner, Sonny’s daughter, with her guidance and strength have helped me through this entire process. Thank you Nicole!

I have also meticulously transcribed all of Sonny’s music, a few solos, a few unpublished tunes and his larger larger work for big band is also included in the book.

The book, titled “Bluesville: The Journey of Sonny Red,” was published in 2003 by the Institute of Jazz Studies in their “Annual Review of Jazz Studies issue 13.” Special thanks to all of the people at the Institute (and Rutgers University) that made this happen.

If you are interested in Sonny’s music, please drop me a line, I would love to hear from you!

Sonny Red at the Stardust Room in Boston, November 1963, with Oliver Jackson, drums, Red Garland, piano, and Paul Chambers, bass. (Courtesy Nicole Kyner)

A Message from Nicole Kyner, Sonny Red’s Daughter

My father spent his brief life doing exactly what he wanted to do, writing and playing music, and inviting conversations with his saxophone. I’m eternally indebted to Anders Svanoe, who called me out of the blue nearly 15 years ago with a desire to understand my father’s life and share his music with a broader audience. Anders heard something unique in the my father’s voice, something that prompted a nearly two decade odyssey of interviews, transcriptions and chasing rabbit holes. The result is a book published by the Institute for Jazz Studies, a deeply personal portrait of the many Sonny Reds from Belzoni, Mississippi to Detroit to NYC.

I’m grateful to listen and continue the conversation, which despite being recorded some 50 years ago, sparkles fresh and still speaks of the new thing.

To Pops with love and gratitude,

Nicole Kyner


Compiled by Anders Svanoe
Edited by Michael Fitzgerald
First published January 2005

Comments, additions, corrections via email to

Sylvester Kyner (“Sonny Red”) was born December 17, 1932 and died March 20, 1981.

While this is the most comprehensive and accurate discography on Sonny Red ever produced, there still may be omissions and errors. Please help if you can.

Thanks to contributors:

Pepper Adams, Barry Harris, Kiane Zawadi


General discographies: All-Music Guide, Bruyninckx, Jepsen, Lord, Raben
Michael Cuscuna & Michel Ruppli: The Blue Note Label (edition 2)

This discography was produced using BRIAN, a computer discography database program created by Steve Albin. BRIAN is a significant step in the field of jazz research and holds much potential. I encourage discographers to investigate this program. Steve has been incredibly helpful in terms of technical support and in custom-tailoring this program.

Out of the Blue


Breezing/A Story Tale/The Mode/Images (4 LPs in 2 CDs)

Sonny Red’s Style As It Changed Over the Years

These sound clips highlight the evolution of Sonny Red’s musical style.

Photos of Sonny Red and Various Memorabilia