Jump to content

Everything Sonny.


Recommended Posts

  • 3 weeks later...
  • Replies 53
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Posted Images

  • 2 weeks later...


After 7 Decades, Sonny Rollins Can't Get Music Off His Mind

Everyone knows the legendary names of 20th-century jazz, but there are only a handful of those greats still around to tell their stories. One of them is saxophonist Sonny Rollins. He recently donated his personal archives, which cover a seven-decade career, to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library.

NPR's Audie Cornish and Christian McBride, bassist and host of NPR's Jazz Night In America, spoke with Rollins about his collaborations with fellow jazz legends, the unseen work that goes into improvisation and the contents of his archives. Rollins began by talking about his childhood in Harlem, and how he took up music when he was just 7 years old. Read on for an edited transcript.

Sonny Rollins: When my mother got me a saxophone, of course, you know, I mean, this was Depression time. It took her a while for me to convince her that yeah, I really want to play. ... But anyways, when she got me my saxophone, she got it from an uncle I had that played saxophone in Harlem. So she got me this used horn. So boy, I got this horn, man — I went in a room, I shut the door and I was in heaven. My momma had to knock on the door: "Sonny, Sonny, it's time to eat dinner, come on!" I didn't know what I was doing on the horn, but I was doing it!

I heard a lot of music around me when I was growing up, being born in Harlem. That's another significance of the Schomburg collection. Because Harlem was Harlem, in those days. There was something happening every place you looked. There was of course the Cotton Club, there was the Savoy Ballroom. Musical venues abounded. Back in the '30s, when I grew up, Harlem was sort of the epicenter. All of the black jazz kings resided up there.

Audie Cornish: So was it a matter of sneaking into these clubs?

We used to go down to 52nd Street and I used to go hear Charlie Parker, but I had to put on — You know we got this black stuff that women put on their eyebrows?

Christian McBride: Oh, to make a fake mustache?

Right! Make a fake mustache. Now, I don't know if I was fooling nobody, but I don't think they cared too much. [Laughter.] But they let us in. 52nd Street, I used to go in there and have my fake mustache and go in there to listen to the great Charlie Parker.

Cornish: Can you talk to us a little bit about what kind of papers you've turned over? Is there a particular item you're really excited for scholars or people to see?


Well, I had a lot of music notes. I'm constantly trying to learn music and teach myself. So I had a lot of little notes to myself of patterns, things that I had difficulty playing — how to do them myself. And there's some music books there. There's some personal notes between myself and my wife. There are a lot of personal things there. It really comprises a long period of my life.

And when the truck pulled away from my home with all that stuff, I felt, "Well, wait a minute. There go. I'm going with that. Am I here? I don't know." I'm there with the archives, and I'm here in my home. It was a very interesting experience.

Cornish: You mentioned that some of the notes are things you were teaching yourself. That's interesting because people always talk about you as the great improviser. They think of improvisation as something where people are never writing anything down, and your archives show the opposite.

Well, I considered myself maybe — 80 percent self-taught. So I had a lot of instructional things for myself that enabled me to improvise. I have to have my basic material there. Then comes the next step, which is improvisation.

McBride: You said you were 80 percent self-taught. I'm curious about that other 20 percent. Was there a particular [person] who acted as sort of a mentor to you? A saxophone mentor? I know how much you love Coleman Hawkins, but was he primarily your main man?

Well, he was primarily my main idol when I first really got into him around 1939. But I'm happy to say that all of the people that I encountered, the older guys, they were all wonderful mentors for me. All these guys. J. J. Johnson, the trombone player. Oscar Pettiford, the bass player. Max Roach, the drummer. Of course, Thelonious Monk, piano. So all of these guys, they all showed me. They all mentored me. I really learned a lot from being around them.

Cornish: It's hard to think of you, Sonny Rollins, as someone who feels like you're constantly having to learn. Because you were a prodigy, right? Out of high school, you were already a pro even though you hadn't been to any kind of formal music education.

Right, right. Yeah, no, I started — I think I first played with Miles Davis in 1948. And then I played with Monk around that time, in the '40s. There I am with these gods of music. So I had a gift. Because for music, you had to be gifted. It's not a matter of your intelligence or anything. You have to have a gift. Just as, I'm sure, for other professions. ... And then I came upon these very great and — not just great musicians, but great people. ... And I'm trying to now live my life like that. I've got a gift, a musical gift, fine. But I want to be a human being, a good human being. I need to always express that to young students. Everybody can have a gift. That's a gift. But then we have to be good human beings. So that's what it's all about.

McBride: I want to ask you about one of your many innovations: the piano-less trio. Just the saxophone-bass-drums trio. How did that start? Why did you do that?

Well, OK, you gonna get me in trouble now, Christian. [Laughter.]

McBride: Did somebody not show up for the gig or something?

No, see, the thing is this: I was fortunate to play with great piano players in my time. However, I felt that I could concentrate on my own stream of thought better without a pianist. I just wanted to not be led — it's hard not to be led by a piano. ... In my playing, I always felt more free, to be able to go places my mind took me, without having a piano say, "Hey man, go from this chord. Go to the fourth there. Go to the seventh there." Which is good, I mean — it's nothing wrong with that. But I felt freer, just going there myself. And when I have a great bass player, like yourself, and a great drummer, that's all I need. I need the rhythm and the rest of it, I wanted to be free to hear whatever was there to be heard.

McBride: There you go. That was beautiful.

Christian? Now you're going to have the piano players be out to get me now.

Cornish: With the exception of Roy Haynes, you have lived long past many of the greats that you worked with, even the ones that came after you. What has that been like? What do you see your role as in terms of carrying forward some of these legacies?

Well, I have been so fortunate, you know. I played with — oh, boy. I played with Coleman Hawkins, I played with Lester Young, saxophonist. I played with Don Byas, I played with Dexter Gordon. I played with some of the younger — Jackie McLeanOrnette Coleman. And then I played with trumpet players: Miles, Dizzy, I played with the great Fats Navarro, one of the great trumpet players. And Kenny Dorham. When I look back on the people that I've played with, it's unbelievable. It was such a great thing.

And actually, you know, they are not physically here, true. But they are here. See, I can wake up and think about Miles any day, any minute of the day. Oh, think about something he said. Think about something he played. Think about Monk. Those guys are here with me, even though they're not here in the body. But you know, we have a saying in some of the disciplines that I follow that says, "I am not the body." I am not the body. That's very important. And that's very important when speaking about people — great artists, great personages that I have been on the planet with. They are still here, to me. All of 'em. All of 'em. And Christian knows what I'm talking about. Because if you hear the music, you don't have to be there looking at somebody's body. His music is here. All the time.

McBride: And it feeds the soul.

It feeds the soul. Yeah. We got Beethoven, you listen to him. I don't care that his body ain't been around here for a long time. Doesn't mean anything.

McBride: That's very true. Mr. Rollins, I wanna ask you: Are we gonna hear some new music from you soon?

Well, Christian, I had a little health issue and it sort of got me away from playing. I mean I had to go through quite a period of adjustment after I realized that I couldn't blow my horn anymore. ... But I'm thinking music — I can't get music out of my mind, think about it all the time. And maybe I'll find some other way to express the music that I have in my mind. But I don't know, because my saxophone was so much an integral part of everything I thought about and expressing sounds — it's difficult to do it on another instrument. But I don't know. Maybe I might start singing, who knows? Watch out!



This was a very nice interview. 


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 weeks later...

Sonny Rollins Speaks

The Saxophone Colossus argues for his Freedom Suite


Published 02/16/2017 
By Michael J. West

In late October, we received a friendly but troubled call from one of our longtime subscribers, Sonny Rollins. He was concerned about the absence of his 1958 LP Freedom Suite from Michael J. West’s “Protest Jazz” sidebar, a supplement to the cover story featuring Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and writer Ashley Kahn. Our response to Rollins was apologetic, of course, and we were quick to explain that despite its “JT Essentials” header, the sidebar was simply a roundup of entry points into the rich legacy of jazz as social protest; we couldn’t possibly hit all of the “essentials” in a brief article of a few hundred words. Still, Rollins’ arguments were mighty, and we wanted to give him an opportunity to plead his case here—as if his music hadn’t already.
Evan Haga, Editor

It was quite distressing to see that the JazzTimes article on protest music in jazz jumped from Louis Armstrong’s “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue” and Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” right to 1960 and Max Roach’s We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite. Well, before that was Freedom Suite.

I had an activist grandmother, and when I was a little boy, 3, 4, 5 years old, she used to take me on marches up and down Harlem for people like Paul Robeson and segregation cases on 125th Street. That was just a part of my upbringing. Later, when I was playing music and making a little name for myself, I was able to record “The House I Live In,” which was very much a civil-rights anthem at the time. And I made an early record with Miles Davis, “Airegin,” which was Nigeria spelled backwards. It was an attempt to introduce some kind of black pride into the conversation of the time. That was my history.

The record Freedom Suite was made in the beginning of 1958. It was a trio recording with Max Roach and Oscar Pettiford, and it was an important album. The producer, Orrin Keepnews, took a lot of heat for that record. I made a statement [about civil rights on the back cover of] that record, and he even had to say at one time that he wrote the statement, which is ridiculous. But he wanted to record me on his Riverside label, and that was the piece that he had, and he accepted it.

I took some heat for it as well. I was playing a concert in Virginia, something at a school down there, and I remember being confronted—not in a hostile or violent way, just verbally—about why I made this record, and so on and so forth. There were a lot of those [incidences]. It wasn’t a big deal for me, because as I said, it was quite normal. I was born into a family that was always very cognizant of those things. I do remember that the controversy was slightly scary—but not too much, because I was a big, strong guy, and when you’re young you think you’re indestructible. But in retrospect it was a little scary, yes. And it was also one of these situations where some people talked with me about it and some people didn’t, but it was always there, hanging over everything. Especially at that time; 1958 was pretty early on in the consciousness of the civil-rights movement.

So it wasn’t like something that nobody knew about; it was a controversial record. They actually changed the title to Shadow Waltz [when the album was reissued by the Jazzland label in the early 1960s]. “The Freedom Suite” took up one half of the album, and the other half was standard compositions. So they took a name from the other half of the record.

Anyway, it’s history—but it is history. And that’s why I was distressed to see it omitted from the list. In the modern jazz era, that was the first record that reflected the civil-rights period. That was the first that I know of. It was an important thing, a groundbreaking record. I just don’t want to be written out of history.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

RCA did a whole series like that. New Orleans was Al Hirt, Hollywood was Henry Mancini, I don't know who all else there was.

But why was Sergio Franchi Red Seal? I thought he sang pop-type stuff, at least that's how I remember him from Ed Sullivan, which was about the only time I heard him?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

You know, that Munich concert above from 1992 is excellent. I heard Sonny in Chicago around that same time at the University of Illinois at Chicago -- my wife was on the committee that helped bring him -- and half of it was even better than this Munich performance. It didn't start that way. The first three tunes were a little unsettled and perfunctory, but then Sonny took a quick break and when they came back -- look out! Al Foster was on drums and they opened the part of the concert with "Tenor Madness" and Sonny traded fours (mostly) with Foster for what was at least 15 minutes. It remains I think the most euphoric Sonny I ever witnessed in person, though another moment came close. Around 2007 he played a concert in Detroit that feel on the same night as an opera I had to review for the Detroit Free Press. Since I couldn't make the concert, I was allowed to hang out for the sound check in the afternoon, during which Sonny played "Three Little Words" almost as if was 1965 again -- not with the same ferocity but the same sort of flow.  Thematic but more bebop oriented -- longer lines -- that he was wont to do in recent years. Again, it was super intense.  It was super relaxed, but the content of what he was playing was amazing. It is no coincidence I think that he did this without an audience present.. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I saw Sonny Rollins live only one time, it was in 1979 and I´ll never forget that event. He had one of his best quartets with Mark Soskin, Jerome Harris and my alltime favourit drummer Al Foster.

I don´t remember all the tunes they played, but one item was "Isn´t She Lovely" , which he had recorded only 2 years earlier. I think, shortly before the concert I saw, he had recoeded with Larry Coryell, the famous album "Don´t Ask". It was a festival, Coryell was also on schedule, but they didn´t perform together.

I´ll never forget those great festivals with all them musicians they wrote books about them, living legends. Imagine, Sonny wasn´t even 50 at that time, really a quite young man.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 2/19/2019 at 7:45 AM, Gheorghe said:

I saw Sonny Rollins live only one time, it was in 1979 and I´ll never forget that event. He had one of his best quartets with Mark Soskin, Jerome Harris and my alltime favourit drummer Al Foster.

I don´t remember all the tunes they played, but one item was "Isn´t She Lovely" , which he had recorded only 2 years earlier. I think, shortly before the concert I saw, he had recoeded with Larry Coryell, the famous album "Don´t Ask". It was a festival, Coryell was also on schedule, but they didn´t perform together.

I´ll never forget those great festivals with all them musicians they wrote books about them, living legends. Imagine, Sonny wasn´t even 50 at that time, really a quite young man.

Saw that same quartet in spring 1980. I was 16. Don't recall the entire set list, but they definitely played “Strode Rode,” which I recognized from “Saxophone Colossus.” Might have also played Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” too.

Edited by Mark Stryker
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On ‎20‎.‎02‎.‎2019 at 1:57 PM, Mark Stryker said:

Saw that same quartet in spring 1980. I was 16. Don't recall the entire set list, but they definitely played “Strode Rode,” which I recognized from “Saxophone Colossus.” Mightvhavevalso played Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” too.

Great, Mark ! And usually I also remember tunes from concerts decades ago. "Strode Rode" if I remember right, is a tune with a kind of straight ahead in it. I think the 1979 Rollins as many many musicians of his generation did all they could to avoid 4/4 tunes, the nearest thing to straight ahead was the kind of shuffle-swing of "Isn´t She Lovely". The other tunes as much as I remember was more on backbeat rhythms. Anyway on "Road Shows" Vol 4 you hear a live version of the 1979 "Disco Monk".
I think as the 80´s started, some of the musicians got back into a little straight ahead swing again, same with Diz, the Diz of 1979 was much funky, disco kind of sets, and then one or two years later he  eventually  got back to older bop tunes.......

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 2/20/2019 at 3:17 AM, chewy-chew-chew-bean-benitez said:

dog one time i saw him and it was WELL over a 2 hr show closer to 3, he just kept going!

Sonny Rollins, 2009 Central Park concert. The man kept playing for over two and a half hours until the Manhattan sound curfew drew near and he was asked to wrap it up. It was outdoors and after 11 PM.


Edited by Hardbopjazz
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

Sonny Rollins with Grant Green?  At the Casa Loma, Montreal?  From Coda, April/May 1964, as reprinted in The John Coltrane Reference, page 300:

"Sonny Rollins was due to open on the 25th (Feb 1964), but his plane got grounded by fog in Toronto...Sonny opened the following night with that fine new guitarist Grant Green along with Spanky DeBrest, bass and Roy McCurdy drums.  A week that compared with the Coltrane booking."

Would love to hear that... Any idea how long Grant played with Sonny?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...