The Great Sonny Rollins on Why Jazz Is "King of All Musics"

Categories: Interview

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.

Location Info


Davies Symphony Hall

201 Van Ness, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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@PamGrier @Zite. Love Sonny Rollins! Saw him at the Beacon in NY. St Thomas rocks!



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