Sonny Rollins in Conversation

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Thanks to nother for pitching this show.

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Sonny Rollins on New Haven Green, 1999 [M. Reynard / Flickr]

Sonny Rollins blew us away as jazz-eared tykes with his Saxophone Colossus album in 1956: it introduced the big virile Coleman Hawkins sound of his horn, also his story-telling authenticity with a marvelous Caribbean folk tune like “St. Thomas” (which he was said to have learned on his mother’s knee), and the fine-tuned intimacy of his duets with other colossi — in this case Max Roach on drums and Tommy Flanagan on piano.

To this day, a half century later, Sonny Rollins keeps blowing us away not only with his records but with the amazing way he has modeled a humble life of self-improvement. Almost as famous as Rollins himself is his long spell of self-exile from 1959 to 1962 on New York City’s Williamsburg Bridge, where he played his way into new understanding and mastery of his music, and conceived among many other things The Bridge.

“To me it’s always been a learning thing,” Sonny Rollins still says. Though he made mature recordings, like Time on My Hands in his early twenties, Sonny Rollins has long thought of himself as one whose dedication to music came a little late, not least because he’d so enjoyed himself as a cartoonist and painter in high school. Exposed early to the genius generation of Thelonius Monk and Bud Powell, he has said: “I didn’t have a lot of confidence that I was good enough to make it.”

And here he is in his mid-Seventies, exceeding his studio sessions with unbearably exciting live performances on tour (stopping at Boston’s Symphony Hall on Friday), and deigning to be interviewed, live, Thursday afternoon on Open Source. Help me out, friends. Sonny Rollins is a man to go beyond the last solo, or the last interview. Where do we want to go with this wonderful man?

Extra Credit Reading

Ben Ratliff, Listening to CDs with Sonny Rollins; Free Spirit Steeped In Legends, The New York Times, September 30, 2005: “Yet he says he has an aversion to listening to himself play. He had to force himself to listen closely to the tape of the Boston concert, a process that he described as ‘like Abu Ghraib.'”

Jack Pendarvis, Sonny Rollins, The Place Where Jack Pendarvis has a “Blog”, January 26, 2007: “He reminds me of Moses. He is Moses! Is that gnomic? Cryptic? Well, listen to Sonny Rollins and find out! Who knows which Sonny Rollins you’ll get? There are more Sonny Rollinses than there are Bob Dylans. Acquaint yourself with any one of them! Okay! Sonny Rollins!”

Carl Abernathy, Sonny Rollins’ Podcasts are a Model for Journalists, Cahl’s Juke Joint: A rock, blues and jazz blog, March 2, 2007: “I think Rollins’ discussions about music, which are interspersed with performances, are a perfect model for journalists. The podcasts are informative, entertaining and surprising.”

Meeting Sonny – The Sonny Rollins Podcast

Paulie, Serendipity and pedantry, Never Trust a Hippy, February 20, 2007: “The stand-out track, for me, was Rollins’ lovely drawling take on Mack The Knife. It remains one of my favourite pieces of music and I’ve been desperate to get my hands on it again.”

Rod, Coleman Hawkins… Sonny Rollins… Muntu… Lee Konitz/Gerry Mulligan… Earl Hines… Sam Rivers…, WordsAndMusic, February 9, 2007: “One of my favourite standards ‘Where or when,’ played at the post-9/11 concert in Boston by Sonny Rollins. Stretching the melody as the trombone of Clifton Anderson weaves round him – to take the foreground as Rollins drops back and eventually out.”

Trombonology, Alfie And The Strange Comfort Of Cynicism, Relative Esoterica, March 19, 2007: “I am pleased to recall that I was smitten then, even in my pre-jazz years, with the atmospheric Sonny Rollins soundtrack. It seems, today, so characteristic for me to have been captivated by those opening shots: streets shiny with rain, darkness so intense as to suggest noir’s monochrome.”

Mark Saleski, Music Review: Sonny Rollins – Plus Four: Rudy Van Gelder Remasters Series, The Mondo Project, February 7, 2007: “The same goes for Sonny Rollins. If you study records like The Bridge (with guitarist Jim Hall) or the iconic Saxophone Colossus, you’ll hear saxophone lines that are…how do I put this?…are as they were meant to be.”

Big Geez, REVIEW: Sonny Rollins – Plus 4, Geezer Music Club, February 7, 2007: ” Rollins went on to make many, many albums through the years as the leader of various groups, occasionally reinventing himself in the process, but the circumstances do make this particular album a little more special.”

Sonny Rollins, Buddhist

Lumiere, in a comment to Open Source, April 3, 2007: “I have been waiting to ask Sonny this for a long time. In terms of aesthetics, what would be Sonny’s signature song. I’m going to leave the definition of aesthetics open to interpretation, but say that it is NOT technical proficiency.”

Avecfrites, in a comment to Open Source, April 5, 2007: “I’ve read that Sonny used to dig Louis Jordan and Johnny Hodges, both Alto players. So why the Tenor? Is it because after Charlie Parker nobody could play Alto anymore?”

Pryoung, in a comment to Open Source, April 5, 2007: “Other jazz artists I revere like John Coltrane and Abdullah Ibrahim were deeply spiritual in their approach to music too, and I would love to hear Sonny Rollins talk not only about his own experience of that, but also how matters of spirit have influenced the tradition more generally.”

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