Sonny Rollins on life and music

Wonderful interview with Sonny Rollins by Mark Jacobson in Men’s Journal. Some highlights:

Musicians all over town thought he was nuts. Why did he need all this practice? He was the best; wasn’t that good enough? But those people didn’t hear what Sonny heard. He was nothing but a glorified beginner, Sonny believed, a work in progress. There were places he needed to go. When he got there, that’s when he’d come back.

“They can take me out and shoot me before I’ll allow myself to be some oldies act.”

“[Thelonious] Monk always told me that without music, life wouldn’t be shit. Outside of his family, music was all he cared about. That’s how he was, totally pure. I always hated the way they demeaned him, made him out to be some high-priest weirdo, like he just happened to play these beautiful things by voodoo or putting his fingers on the keys by accident.” The fact was, Sonny said, Monk was actually “a completely normal, down-to-earth guy” once you got to know him.

By the late 1970s, however, things began to look up. “Sonny seemed to relax,” [Gary] Giddins said. “It was as if he realized that he was primarily a concert artist and didn’t have to spend all that time in the recording studio. His live solos became these great meditative, playful, stream-of-consciousness things. It was like the whole history of the music was just pouring out of him on any given night. The audience understands the process, waits for him to find his groove, then the whole place explodes, because when he’s on, there’s nothing else like it in this world. The fact that he has continued to play as well as he has for so long is a real blessing. I never thought I’d say this, but Sonny’s really great period might be 1978 to now.”

“The kind of music I play, the horn and the drum have to be really tight. These younger musicians, they’re great. They can play anything. But I have played with some good drummers in my time. Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes. These are some good drummers, man. I’m not looking for someone who can play what Max played in 1956, because it isn’t 1956 anymore. I am looking for someone who can play what Max would play in 2013….”

“I may not physically be able to play what I did in 1957, but there are things I couldn’t think of playing in 1957 that I play now. I’m not making more of myself than I am, but an artist has periods. Picasso had periods. Things evolve. You can’t play what you played when you were 25 just because that’s what you’re expected to play. Those same notes? I can’t do it.”

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