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The Great Sonny Rollins on Why Jazz Is "King of All Musics"
SF Weekly ^ | Fri., Sep. 28 2012 | Dave Pehling

Posted on 09/29/2012 12:13:05 PM PDT by nickcarraway

Long celebrated as one of the greatest tenor players in the history of jazz, saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins has been refining the art of creative improvisation for almost seven decades. A precocious youth growing up in Harlem during the golden age of jazz, a teenage Rollins led a band that included such future heavyweights as alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, drummer Art Taylor, and pianist Kenny Drew.

The spark apparent in his playing would lead to a mentorship by iconic composer Thelonious Monk and early work with such pioneering figures as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Rollins would go on to collaborate with a literal who's-who of jazz greats, recording some of the classic albums of the '50s with Clifford Brown and Max Roach (Sonny Rollins +4 and At Basin Street), John Coltrane (Tenor Madness) and Monk (Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins).

Despite earning many accolades, Rollins would step away from music for an extended sabbatical in the late '50s, famously woodshedding for countless on the Williamsburg Bridge and honing his craft until his triumphant return in 1962. The now 82-year-old Rollins has remained a prolific performer and recording artist, earning every imaginable honor -- the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors, the NEA Jazz Master title, and the National Medal of Arts, to name a few recent awards -- while continuing to push himself to new creative heights. We spoke to Rollins at his home ahead of his upcoming concert at Davies Symphony Hall this Sunday as part of the 30th annual San Francisco Jazz Festival presented by SFJAZZ.

You initially played piano and alto saxophone before settling on tenor, but from what I gather, that was because an alto horn just ended up in your household? No, my mother bought me an alto. I was an aficionado of the rhythm and blues band of Louis Jordan, and he played alto. He played tenor too, but mainly he played alto. So at that time I just wanted a saxophone, and it didn't really matter until a few years later when Coleman Hawkins's "Body and Soul" was the big sensation. Then I wanted to play like Coleman Hawkins. I wanted to get that tenor sound.

Had you played piano much before you got your first horn? No, my older brother and sister, they were classically trained. I was the baby, and when I didn't want to play piano and wanted to play stickball in the street, my mother kind of let me get away with it. So I never really did get into the piano. I use the piano now to compose and just play around with, but I never really studied piano.

In one interview I came across, you referred to yourself as "a primitive" in terms of being a self-taught musician, or at least that you didn't study music academically. Do you still feel that way after so many years of playing? Well, all these years I've been fortunate enough to be taught, so to speak, by a lot of great musicians I came in contact with and play with. They all showed me their tricks and everything. So I wouldn't say that I'm self-taught. That would be deceptive. What I mean when I say I'm a primitive, I'm looking for music which is not the norm. It doesn't always come out that way, I know, but I'm still searching. I still practice every day. I'm a guy that's still writing music. I'm changing my band. So I'm a guy who is still searching for something.

So you'd say primitive as opposed to refined? Yes.

I found it really interesting in some interviews where you discuss your approach to live performance that you said it was best to work from as much of a blank slate as possible to open yourself up to what comes to mind and what comes out of your horn naturally...

Absolutely. That's exactly the way I try to operate. As a musician, there's a lot that you learn. You've got to learn your materials, your songs, harmonics. There's a lot that you have to know. But after knowing that, then you leave that. You've learned it; you've assimilated that. Then you let your subconscious take over. I surprise myself when that happens. I never know what I'm going to play. I'm not a musician that can sort of play the same thing every night the same way. It's great to be able to do that, but I'm not that kind of a musician. That's not my talent. My stuff is completely spontaneous. Well, mainly spontaneous. Like I said, you do have to know the materials that you're working with, and then it's spontaneous.

You've referred to jazz as the "king of all musics." Is that sort of what you're speaking of as far as what your knowledge base has to be in order to be able to execute it properly? Well I think that, especially in our world, we have so many kinds of music now. There's your so-called popular music and all these offshoots and world musics. But jazz is somehow the tops. And I don't mean this in a way to sound like I'm putting other music down. I'm not. Everybody loves jazz music. I find guys who play all styles of music and when they talk about jazz music, they speak in a very reverential way. They know how difficult it is to play. It's very technical music, but at the same time it's a very free music, like I was just describing to you. And musicians realize this. All these styles of music that you hear, like reggae and hip hop, they owe a lot to jazz. They owe a lot to jazz.

Next: Rollins on playing live with Ornette Coleman

You've worked with and were exposed to a lot of iconic jazz pioneers growing up in New York. I wanted to ask you about being mentored by Thelonious Monk while you were still in your teens. I have a hard time imaging how -- in the modern times -- a teenager would get access to someone of that stature. Was it really just a matter of meeting him and expressing interest? No [laughs]. You know, jazz is a meritocracy. You have to be good. You have to be talented. It's a gift. You have to have a gift. All the guys I grew up with, we all wanted to play jazz. We all wanted to be jazz musicians. I had the talent. So when Monk heard me play -- I was playing someplace with my little group -- he liked my playing. It wasn't that he pulled me out of a Rolodex or something. So he knew that I had potential. So I began playing with Monk and absorbing all of the things I could.

Later on, when I studied some Eastern disciplines like yoga and all that, I began to be familiar with the term "guru." And I realized that Monk was my guru. So I was very fortunate that Monk heard me and I was able to play with him at an early age.

I really enjoyed the performance "Sonnymoon for Two" with Ornette Coleman from your latest live album, Road Shows, Vol. 2. It was obviously a real landmark moment given that you had never shared the stage before. Do you have any plans for similar collaborations with high-profile players of Ornette's caliber or maybe something more long term?

Well I don't have any plans, and I don't anticipate having an all-star group or being involved in an all-star group. I don't think that's going to happen. As far as playing with some people of the stature of Ornette Coleman -- and there aren't a lot of people of his stature -- I am not averse to playing with other well-known artists. If the situation is right and we can do some music together that I feel comfortable with and they feel comfortable with, yeah, I'm very much open to doing something like that again.

As far as a tour, no. That would take a lot of things that would actually be extraneous to the music as far as I can see, so I wouldn't do that. But yes, I'm very open and the possibility exists that I might do that. I've been thinking about doing that.

As far as your recordings, it has been some time since your last studio album, Sonny Please, in 2006. The last couple of releases have been more recent live recordings that you've put out on your own label. Do you find the immediacy of the performances in a live setting preferable to a studio recording?

Not entirely. I think there's something to be said for my live albums, but I appreciate studio albums. As a matter of fact, I was going to make a studio album this year, but this year's now almost gone and it didn't happen. But I think they are two different animals. I'm overdue to do a studio album and would hope to be able to do that sometime soon.


TOPICS: Music/Entertainment; Society
KEYWORDS: jazz; jazzsnob; music; sonnyrollins

1 posted on 09/29/2012 12:13:10 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway
My favorite Sonny Rollins track: The Way You Look Tonight" with Thelonious Monk on piano.
2 posted on 09/29/2012 12:23:22 PM PDT by Maceman (The Qu'ran is Qu'rap)
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To: nickcarraway

[ The Great Sonny Rollins on Why Jazz Is “King of All Musics” ]

WRONG.. Classical and Classical Crossover is KIng and Queen...
Jazz is just a nuance of Blues and the base of PoP..

RAP is not even music.. it is posturing by people with no musical talent..
FAKE music or PoP Propaganda.. or even Junk Agitprop..

Classical is the King of Music.. the more you hate Classical the more APE-like you are..

Eventially degrading to RAP and acting like an APE..
thinking like an Ape, some even walking like APES..

The emotions, tone, demeanor, and harmony of Classical is wide and deep.. and Classical Cross-over is like a “Sigh”.. or glance of the eyes.. Classical and Classical-Crossover is like two genres dancing sometimes romantic sometimes brisk and lively..

Jazz is a Princess and Blues a Prince both learning to be potty trained.. a good wipe and their good as new..

PoP vomits quite often and RAP pisses on the TV..

**NOTE: My next class will be on the difference between, Politics and Tribal musical chairs.. (seating is limited)..


3 posted on 09/29/2012 12:39:29 PM PDT by hosepipe (This propaganda has been edited to include some fully orbed hyperbole..)
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To: nickcarraway

I don’t know what it is but I cannot get into Jazz. All it sounds like to me is all the musicians play solos and don’t listen to each other.

Plus, and this is a major reason, is the numerous 7th and 11th chords not to mention the suspended ones. It sounds to me like a piano where you play the adjacent white and black keys at the same time, is sounds terrible.

Different strokes and all that...


4 posted on 09/29/2012 12:43:04 PM PDT by Lx (Do you like it, do you like it. Scott? I call it Mr. and Mrs. Tennerman chili.)
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To: nickcarraway; Revolting cat!; Slings and Arrows
Doesn't this album have a track with some wanker musicians going on and on about how "it's not jazz"?


5 posted on 09/29/2012 12:52:19 PM PDT by a fool in paradise (Obama likes to claim credit for getting Osama. Why hasn't he tried Khalid Sheikh Mohammed yet?)
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To: nickcarraway
Sonny Rollins Quartet (1956) - St. Thomas
6 posted on 09/29/2012 12:55:21 PM PDT by Islander7 (There is no septic system so vile, so filthy, the left won't drink from to further their agenda)
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To: hosepipe

By “classical” I assume you mean orchestral?

The “classical” period is best known for Mozart & Haydn. Beethoven’s early symphonies are classical - but his 5th symphony is thought by some to be the point at which we begin to enter the “Romantic” period.

I’m partial to the Romantic period on into the 20th century.

Jazz is an acquired taste, and presents difficulty to the pedestrian listener because it requires that the listener actively focus and participate. It’s not music to be played in the background - although much “jazz” is easy listening.


7 posted on 09/29/2012 1:33:51 PM PDT by CTyank
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To: hosepipe
Classical is the King of Music.. the more you hate Classical the more APE-like you are..

Eventially degrading to RAP and acting like an APE.. thinking like an Ape, some even walking like APES..

The emotions, tone, demeanor, and harmony of Classical is wide and deep.. and Classical Cross-over is like a “Sigh”.. or glance of the eyes.. Classical and Classical-Crossover is like two genres dancing sometimes romantic sometimes brisk and lively..

Jazz is a Princess and Blues a Prince both learning to be potty trained.. a good wipe and their good as new..

PoP vomits quite often and RAP pisses on the TV..

____________________________

Dude, you sound "ape-like" in the extreme yourself.

Even classical musicians admit that (except for pianists) jazz musicians best them when it comes to sheer ability on their instruments.

And what is "Classical Crossover"? Mantovani?

8 posted on 09/29/2012 1:50:15 PM PDT by x
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To: nickcarraway

Duke Ellington put it best.

“There’s only two kinds of music. Good music and bad music, so if it sounds good, it is good.”


9 posted on 09/29/2012 2:09:49 PM PDT by Emperor Palpatine ("On the ascent of Olympus, what's a botched bar or two?" -Artur Schnabel)
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To: x

The great Arthur Rubinstein once remarked that Oscar Peterson was the greatest pianist he had ever heard.

Some can do both equally well. Andre Previn is one of these, add his prowess as a conductor and he’s a triple-threat.


10 posted on 09/29/2012 2:14:16 PM PDT by Emperor Palpatine ("On the ascent of Olympus, what's a botched bar or two?" -Artur Schnabel)
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To: CTyank

[ Jazz is an acquired taste ]

I love Jazz/Blues BUT its not the King of Music.. its just not..
Its not even the Transvestite of Music.. too hairy..

Only an uneducated moron would call JAzz the King of Music..
Much music on this planet, Jazz is just a temporal riff..
Jazz has some good chops but it is still temporal.. and a side issue..

I even listen to a bit of RAP, its like a Chimp smoking a cigarette wearing a hat.. quite funny..

Brazilian Jazz is becoming quite good.. American Jazz sometimes sounds like they are tuning their instruments.. and after listening you know they often havn’t..

Diana Krall is big right now.. Although quite beautiful her playing is marginal mostly.. Not bad, just marginal..


11 posted on 09/29/2012 2:29:49 PM PDT by hosepipe (This propaganda has been edited to include some fully orbed hyperbole..)
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To: nickcarraway

“You’ve referred to jazz as the “king of all musics.” ....Well I think that, especially in our world, we have so many kinds of music now. There’s your so-called popular music and all these offshoots and world musics. But jazz is somehow the tops. And I don’t mean this in a way to sound like I’m putting other music down. I’m not. Everybody loves jazz music. I find guys who play all styles of music and when they talk about jazz music, they speak in a very reverential way. They know how difficult it is to play.”

Stick to your sax, dude: ‘thinking’ isn’t your life’s calling.


12 posted on 09/29/2012 2:42:22 PM PDT by Psycho_Bunny ("Allah" isn't a god. It's a mental disorder.)
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To: hosepipe

I’m embarrassed for you after reading that post. You sound like the philharmonic equivalent of the Obama Phone Lady.


13 posted on 09/29/2012 2:52:48 PM PDT by wideawake
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To: x
Good observations. Think of a composer like Charles Mingus. His work is as sophisticated and complex as the composers he studied - Stravinsky, Saint-Saens, DeBussy - but unlike them, he was also a master improviser.

"Reincarnation of a Lovebird", "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" and "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" all demonstrate how artificial the line is between blues, jazz and "art music." Especially when the artist is a genius who undeceived by categorization.

14 posted on 09/29/2012 3:01:51 PM PDT by wideawake
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To: nickcarraway
Jazz musicians can have strong opinions.
15 posted on 09/29/2012 3:02:08 PM PDT by Disambiguator
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To: x

“Even classical musicians admit that (except for pianists) jazz musicians best them when it comes to sheer ability on their instruments.”

In the 30-odd years since I began at the Interlochen Arts Academy as a high school freshman majoring in orchestral composition I have never once - not ever - heard a classical musician say anything even remotely like what you’re saying.

I’ve found your sentiments are basically something that jazz musicians claim that classical musicians say.

Usually, when the subject of jazz comes up amongst classical musicians the general opinion tends to be indifferent or sometimes down on jazz.

But, frankly, I’ve never understand why anyone even bothers to have these conversations: jazz and classical music musicians aren’t really comparable: the two styles require a different skill-set of talents.

And both of those skill-sets are really cool when they’re dead on.


16 posted on 09/29/2012 3:03:26 PM PDT by Psycho_Bunny ("Allah" isn't a god. It's a mental disorder.)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

I was a music major, changed majors after I realized I wasn’t going to be a rock star and the only jobs available to me would have been teaching or possibly orchestra, and I agree with you.

You hear a classically trained pianist play something like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata 2nd movement and it is mind blowing. I have never heard jazz like that.

Now, you go to something like big band music and I love that. They even tune their instruments.


17 posted on 09/29/2012 3:25:25 PM PDT by Lx (Do you like it, do you like it. Scott? I call it Mr. and Mrs. Tennerman chili.)
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To: CTyank
Jazz is an acquired taste, and presents difficulty to the pedestrian listener because it requires that the listener actively focus and participate

I'm not a pedestrian listener and to hear music that sounds like it has no form, doesn't appear to modulate smoothly between keys or even keeping time and it would help if they listened to one another and tuned their instruments as well.

Isn't Kenny G a jazz musician? He actually sounds like easy listening to me.

18 posted on 09/29/2012 3:34:46 PM PDT by Lx (Do you like it, do you like it. Scott? I call it Mr. and Mrs. Tennerman chili.)
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To: hosepipe

I listen to some jazz, and love live jazz, but for many decades, once I realized that the pretentious and liberals fall all over themselves praising jazz, I have been making casual note of how many houses I enter, are playing Jazz, and since I have been working in jobs that take me into homes for almost my entire life, I have a lot of experience entering stranger’s homes, decades of it on the good old, liberal, wealthy, Southern California coast.

My experience is that people praise jazz, they just don’t listen to it. I don’t think that I have ever gone into a home where they were listening to jazz while alone and during the day.


19 posted on 09/29/2012 4:13:08 PM PDT by ansel12
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To: nickcarraway
Jazz is the king of music, and Paul Whiteman is the king of jazz.
20 posted on 09/29/2012 4:37:15 PM PDT by Fiji Hill (Io Triumphe!)
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To: Fiji Hill

Please, please tell me that’s a joke because it sounds like big band music (which I like) not jazz.

Their instruments are in tune, there’s a decent melody and it’s not dissonant sounding and they’re all playing together and there’s a beginning and an end.

I looked him up and it says he blends orchestral music and jazz. He must keep the jazz well under control.


21 posted on 09/29/2012 7:34:43 PM PDT by Lx (Do you like it, do you like it. Scott? I call it Mr. and Mrs. Tennerman chili.)
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To: Lx
When he was at the height of his popularity, Whiteman was known as the King of Jazz--and celebrated as such in a movie with that title.

However, fans of tunes such as Duke Ellington's 1928 hit Black and Tan Fantasie or Gertrude Rainey's Deep Moaning Blues weren't so sure as to his pretensions to jazz royalty.

22 posted on 09/29/2012 8:59:58 PM PDT by Fiji Hill (Io Triumphe!)
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To: nickcarraway

Sonny Rollins is the nicest person I have ever met.


23 posted on 09/30/2012 6:21:22 AM PDT by real saxophonist
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To: nickcarraway

I’ve been playing some Joe Zawinul - Weather Report, Pharoah’s Revenge, etc.

Forty-some years later, still very progressive stuff.


24 posted on 09/30/2012 6:26:59 AM PDT by P.O.E. (Pray for America)
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To: P.O.E.

Just realized - by “playing” I meant “pressing play and then listening to”.


25 posted on 09/30/2012 6:28:29 AM PDT by P.O.E. (Pray for America)
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To: Psycho_Bunny; Revolting cat!
There’s your so-called popular music

I think "popular music" today reflects contemporary tastes as much as radio's declining audience, television's declining audience, Big Media's declining boxoffice and magazine sales, et al.

The public is being force fed pablum they never consented to. They are pursuing entertainment in ways that are not so easily tracked (listening to numerous Pandora stations randomly serving up songs, 10000 song shuffles on an ipod, used records, netflix, etc.).

The "charts" are less a gauge for popular culture than they have ever been. Too many options, only a few tastemakers being asked "what's selling this week".

26 posted on 09/30/2012 8:16:33 AM PDT by a fool in paradise (Obama likes to claim credit for getting Osama. Why hasn't he tried Khalid Sheikh Mohammed yet?)
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To: Lx

Sorry,

The comment was made in general. I wasn’t directing it at you.

How many concertos have “ad libitum” soli for the featured instrument? These were meant to be ad lib solos, yet somewhere along the way - it became habit to perform the ad lib sections as written.

There is a young pianist whose name escapes me - that has reversed this trend.

Common chord progressions and composition by “the rules” does not imply great music, any more than atonality, dense chords and dissonance imply bad music.

I tend to like music that resolves to a surprise chord - rather than the one it’s “supposed” to.


27 posted on 09/30/2012 11:58:42 AM PDT by CTyank
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To: Lx

Sorry,

The comment was made in general. I wasn’t directing it at you.

How many concertos have “ad libitum” soli for the featured instrument? These were meant to be ad lib solos, yet somewhere along the way - it became habit to perform the ad lib sections as written.

There is a young pianist whose name escapes me - that has reversed this trend.

Common chord progressions and composition by “the rules” does not imply great music, any more than atonality, dense chords and dissonance imply bad music.

I tend to like music that resolves to a surprise chord - rather than the one it’s “supposed” to.


28 posted on 09/30/2012 11:58:42 AM PDT by CTyank
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To: Psycho_Bunny
In the 30-odd years since I began at the Interlochen Arts Academy as a high school freshman majoring in orchestral composition I have never once - not ever - heard a classical musician say anything even remotely like what you’re saying. I’ve found your sentiments are basically something that jazz musicians claim that classical musicians say.

Admittedly, I did read that in a book on jazz. But here's somebody who claims to play both kinds of music saying something very similar. He says his classical music friends don't agree.

It's a bit of a circular argument: you have to find somebody who's open to both kinds of music to make the assessment, but it's likely that such a person isn't going to malign either type of music, while those who do have a pronounced prejudice will.

But, frankly, I’ve never understand why anyone even bothers to have these conversations: jazz and classical music musicians aren’t really comparable: the two styles require a different skill-set of talents. And both of those skill-sets are really cool when they’re dead on.

Certainly. I wouldn't have responded if the post I read wasn't so outrageous.

29 posted on 09/30/2012 12:11:32 PM PDT by x
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