Sonny Rollins Interview


Jazz great Sonny Rollins says improvisation is in his blood



If you asked jazz musicians, critics and aficionados to name the
greatest living jazz improviser, the overwhelming favorite would
surely be tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

Rollins, who performs Saturday at Music Hall, remains the most
self-effacing musician on the planet, so he would be the first to
dismiss such claims. But facts are facts. When he's inspired, the
music erupts from his imagination in a spontaneous rush of Joycean
intuition, wonder, wit, thematic coherence and rhythmic surprise. At
77, he can still stop the world.

It doesn't happen by accident. As he said in an interview from his
home in Germantown, N.Y., he still practices everyday in search of new
modes of expression.

Rollins had a fast start, working and recording with giants -- Bud
Powell, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Max Roach. By
the late '50s he had become an innovator and sweeping influence. His
finest records -- "Saxophone Colossus," "A Night at the Village
Vanguard," "Our Man in Jazz" and many others -- remain state of the art.

He arrives in Detroit riding a wave of publicity surrounding a 50th
anniversary concert three weeks ago at Carnegie Hall that featured his
regular band and an eye-popping one-time-only trio of bassist
Christian McBride and the indefatigable 82-year-old drummer Roy Haynes.

Question: Tell me about playing with Christian and Roy.

Answer: Well, it's back to my old trio format. I've never played in
that situation with Christian and Roy, but they had played together
before. They're great musicians, so it was very enjoyable. The only
thing is we didn't have enough time. Maybe we'll get together again.

Q: Do you have plans?

A: Not specifically, but my agenda is wide open. If the idea really
takes hold, I guess I would do that. People had thought that we might
go touring, but I'm not sure right now. I'm booked until the end of
the year, and then I have some months off. Maybe next year we'll think
about some options.

Q: Roy Haynes is 82 and still playing with extraordinary authority.
Dave Brubeck, Hank Jones, James Moody and Clark Terry are all in their
80s. You and Ornette Coleman are 77. Jazz used to be considered a
young man's game, but your generation has a lot to give.

A: That's a little too glib for me. There's been a lot of incursions
into the jazz assembly of people, and a lot of new styles of music
have robbed us of some of our people. A lot of guys who could have
come up in jazz, didn't come up. So what happened was these older
people who are fortunate enough to be alive are still around and
playing. But I think there was a big chunk of time when the public
taste was directed away from jazz, so we lost a clump of people who
would still be in there.

But it's like classical music. As long as you have the physical
capacity to do it, age is an asset to a jazz musician. There is so
much to learn. I practice every day, and I'm still learning stuff
every time I play.

Q: Benny Carter played spectacularly at 90. Do you anticipate still
doing it at that age?

A: I do, because I'm reasonably healthy and I know by 90 I'm not going
to learn it all. If the gods smile on me and allow me to keep doing
it, sure. I'm trying to get as much information as I can.

Q: Youth is wasted on the young.

A: I agree with that -- not only in music but in a lot of other ways.

Q: Also, the older you get, the more you realize how much you really
don't know.

A: Yeah. Although I know musicians like Count Basie or Milt Jackson --
guys who kept playing at a certain level as they got older but weren't
musicians who necessarily changed, which can be great. But I'm a
musician of a different stripe. I can't do that. I'm not that good a
musician to play on the same level and do the same thing all the time.

Guys like me have to keep changing around. That's how we survived. A
lot of guys get to the point where they're established and that's it.
My kind is a little different, because I'm physically incapable of
playing two nights in a row the same.

Q: Do you feel the need to make changes to keep yourself inspired or
is there something else going on?

A: In my case I started out in this field as a neophyte among a bunch
of established pros. I was the kid on the block, and I've always been
learning all my career. I didn't come into the field full-blown. In a
sense I'm still a work in progress. Some people come on the scene
having all of these skills intact.

Plus, the way I improvise is different. I don't hear the same thing
all the time. I go by improvisational instinct and that's always
changing, because that's what improvisation is. It's always different.

Q: When we spoke a couple years ago, you said were having some dental
issues and could only practice about two hours a day. Is that still
the case?

A: Yeah. If I get two hours in -- or three, great -- but two hours is
satisfactory and is about my norm.

Q: What are your memories of Detroit?

A: Detroit was always a very vibrant jazz city. There were a lot of
great musicians coming out of Detroit -- a great tradition and a lot
of clubs. I remember on Woodward Avenue, what was the name of that

Q: The Graystone.

A: I remember playing at the Graystone and Lester Young sat in. I was
playing with Max (Roach) and Clifford (Brown). We had played opposite
Lester in New York at the Café Bohemia, so I got to know him. That was
a great experience at the Graystone, because that was the only time I
played with Lester. Of course, I had played with him in my head forever.

Q: So that means you got to play with Lester Young and Coleman
Hawkins. Not everybody gets to play with their idols.

A: That's right. And Ben Webster if you want to throw in the other
guy. I really should be the greatest guy in the world after all the
people that I've played with.

Q: Many of us would say you are.

A: Well, I wouldn't agree with that.

Q: You had some special musical relationships with Detroit musicians.
One was pianist Tommy Flanagan.

A: Oh, boy. Tommy was such a great musician. He was such a flawless
accompanist. But he's more than an accompanist. He was just an
exceptional player.

Q: You've had some issues with piano players over the years.

A: Is that my reputation?

Q: Well, piano players have a lot of keys in front of them and they
like to play them.

A: Exactly. But it's not the instrument, it's the player. I've played
with a lot of good piano players who don't abuse the privilege of
playing all those keys, and Tommy was certainly one of those people.
He knew just what to do and when to do it.

Q: The other Detroiter you had such a vital relationship with was
drummer Elvin Jones. He played with an incredibly loose rhythmic
concept and so do you. Did you feel a kinship with Elvin?

A: Yes, I did. It's like being released from prison, you know?

Elvin was sort of my drummer when I used to assemble bands to take out
on gigs. As a matter of fact, Elvin and I used to go into towns and
pick up a bass player, and one guy we picked up was Jimmy Garrison in
Philly. Jimmy didn't know Elvin at that time. I'm sure that was the
first time Jimmy and Elvin played together. (Editor's note: Garrison
and Jones became a legendary tandem with the John Coltrane Quartet
from 1961-66.)

Q: During the time you took your sabbatical in 1959-61, Elvin started
playing with John Coltrane. I always thought it was a shame that later
on you didn't play more with Elvin.

A: Well, it's a funny story. The last time I saw Elvin -- that sounds
like the title of a song -- I was in Perugia, Italy, playing a
concert. He was also on this jazz festival. I had started playing a
song called "Serenade." It's sort of a 3/4 thing and it would have
been perfect for Elvin and myself to play together.

Elvin and his wife were there when we came off. Elvin said, "Hey man,
we gotta play that together. We gotta make a record of that song." I
said, "Right!" We had planned to record but it never came about. Elvin
was sick and we didn't get it done in time, but it was certainly in
the works to reunite. It was right before he passed away.

Q: What do you look for in a drummer?

A: He's got to have a musical sense, and he's got to have an idea
about musical form. Of course, Max Roach was the premiere guy that
emphasized form. That was why I liked playing with Max. He was really
right on the button.

A drummer's got to be like Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Max Roach, Elvin,
Al Foster, Billy Higgins -- these guys I was fortunate enough to play
with. These kind of guys just have a secure beat, which makes it easy
for me to think.

Somebody asked me the other day, "What do you hear when you play?" I
told him, "I don't want to hear anything." If a guy is accompanying me
while I'm playing, I don't want to hear him. If I hear him, he's
playing something which is distracting. A drummer has got to be there
without being there.

Q: But it's not that simple, because you have to be responding to the
sounds that you hear.

A: Yeah, right. What I mean is that I don't want to hear anything that
doesn't fit. When I hear Elvin, everything I hear fits. So if I hear
him and it fits, then it's the same as saying that I don't hear him.
You know what I mean? It's in the stream.

Q: I know you never listen to your old recordings.

A: Not if I can help it.

Q: But have you watched some of the many videos of yourself through
the years that are floating around the Internet, including those
you've put on your Web site?

A: I don't look at my Web site. I don't have a computer. I have
somebody who I trust who makes sure there's nothing that would offend
me too much. I haven't seen these things you're talking about.

Q: Do you have no interest or is it too traumatic?

A: It's not so much looking. It's the music. I'm still very sensitive
about hearing myself. I'm also not a guy that looks at myself and
says, "Boy, what a handsome guy," but I guess I would go along with it

I had to do an interview with a guy here in New York before our
concert at Carnegie Hall, and he was playing some stuff that I had
done, and I couldn't get out of it. I told him to play it low and
mainly he did. Usually, I try to avoid listening. I heard some things
which I could listen to and they didn't sound that bad. But it's hard
for me to really listen to it.

Q: Have you always felt that way or did it grow?

A: It probably grew. I think when the possibilities of doing overdubs
was beginning I became very self-conscious -- maybe too conscious
about the possibilities. I became very conscious of trying to make
everything perfect. I was out at Fantasy studios, the facilities were
at my disposal, and I spent a lot of time doing six, seven takes of
one song and all this stuff. That made me feel very self-conscious and
I would never really be satisfied.

Of course, I began doing that when I was at RCA in New York in the
'60s. We also had the luxury of doing a lot of takes.

Q: Being that self-aware is a double-edged sword. It can be tough.

A: It's tough because you're never satisfied. I probably would be more
satisfied if I listened to some of them. Then again, there are some
things that I would cringe about. In fact, I don't listen to music at
all. It's really a drag, because I really learn a lot from listening
to other people, and I get inspired by listening to some older records.

It would be a benefit to me if I could get over my phobia -- not
necessarily about myself but about listening. My head is just filled
with so much information. I used to listen to records all my life, but
I'm just at a point now where I can't.

Q: How long has it been that way?

A: It's been that way for maybe 20 years now.

The original interview can be found here

11:15 Gepost door Lexman in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: sonny rollins |  Facebook |

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