“The blues is an institution in itself, which is derivative of the old spirituals. The blues is a way of life, it’s the bridge in which jazz crosses. The blues supports it. All the compositions I’ve written, and I’ve written quite a few of them, have been blues, or blues-influenced at any rate.”

Sylvester Kyner (Sonny Red) 1978

For the past twenty-five years I’ve researched the life and music of the very unknown and brilliant saxophonist and composer, Sonny Red. This has always been a labor of love that started after listening to one of Sonny’s early records on the Jazzland label 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 and the blues, but still had a very personal, vocal approach to the music. The older I get, and the more technical players have become over the years, it’s always a breath of fresh air to get 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.

Red was also constantly evolving as a musician and composer. Just listen to how his approach to the saxophone by the mid 1960s had almost completely changed from his previous more linear bop style. Sonny was a true artist in every sense of the word. He was a “musician’s musician” as we would say.

The website includes many pages devoted to different areas of Sonny’s life. A short history, discography, music manuscripts/scores, posters, record reviews and many private pictures and recordings have been included. Hopefully this information will provide a better understanding of who “Sonny Red” was. Sonny was part of the army of talented jazz musicians who made important contributions to the world of music, but at times never got the recognition they so deserved.  Now’s the Time for these stories to be told.

Some of this material appeared in the Annual Review of Jazz Studies put out by the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in 2003. I am very thankful to everyone at the Institute for providing guidance and support.

This entire journey has been a team effort. I couldn’t have done this without the generous help from the Kyner/Kiner family. I can’t thank Nicole Kyner enough, who from day one, was so involved in helping get her dad’s story out to the world. Additonal thanks go to Jaffiria Leach-Orr who was repsonsible for the Sonny Red celebration tribute at the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2014. What a memorable weekend that was!

And a final thanks to all of the Detroiters involved. Lars Bjorn, Jim Gallert, Malvin McCray, James Richardson, Charles Boles, Claude Black, Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris, Curtis Fuller, Kiane Zawadi, Tommy Flanagan, Phil Lasley, Frank Gant, Frank Foster, Charles McPherson and Louis Hayes. May their stories live on.

Anders Svanoe
Madison, Wisconsin

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 20 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

If you are interested in downloading Sonny’s sheet music, or an oral history with excerpts from 28 interviews, chronological list of performances and a complete discography (updated May 2020), please visit gumroad.com or the widgets below. We are suggesting a $15 donation for the music PDFs (in concert pitch) and a $10 donation for the oral history, discography and list of performances PDFs.  If you are unable to swing the suggested donation we are offering an easy alternative to donate any dollar amount as you are able to. These proceeds will go directly to keeping this website up and running for years to come.  I hope to hear many great groovin’ renditions of Mustang and Bluesville.  Thank you!


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

Comments, additions, corrections via email to svanoe@sbcglobal.net

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

[mpc_grid_images preset=”mpc_preset_3″ images=”57,58,60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68,69,70,71,72,73,48,31,22,7″ cols=”3″ gap=”15″ image_size=”large” image_opacity=”100″ image_border_css=”border-width:15px;border-color:#edece3;border-style:solid;” effect=”none” image_hover_opacity=”100″ image_hover_border_css=”border-color:#f5f4ec;” overlay_background=”rgba(255,255,255,0.2)” overlay_enable_lightbox=”true” overlay_icon=”etl etl-magnifying-glass” overlay_icon_color=”#9d9d9d” overlay_icon_size=”60″ overlay_url_icon=”etl etl-attachment” overlay_url_icon_color=”#ffffff” overlay_url_icon_size=”48″ overlay_icon_background=”rgba(255,255,255,0.01)” overlay_icon_border_css=”border-radius:100px;” overlay_icon_margin_divider=”true” image_hover_inner_border_css=”box-shadow: inset 0px 0px 0px 20px rgba(255,255,255,0.7);”]