Was cleaning up some older work, and found this Q&A with Rollins from late 2006. The site it first appeared on est mort, so here it is again. – Jim Macnie
Some tenor players are cagey, some are bold. Sonny Rollins is both, and has been for a long time. Listen to him motor around the confines of “Come, Gone” on 1957’s immortal Way Out West. His meaty lines are the definition of vivaciousness, keening with smarts and swagger. Ditto for “Nishi,” a track from the newly released Sonny, Please. It’s a jumpin’ blues that finds the saxophonist tearing up all sorts of turf. Long squawks, “Oh Susannah” quotes, clipped phrases that are continuously stacked higher and higher, spiraling bits of melody that chop rhythm and revitalize the music’s thrust – the piece is a smorgasbord of musical gambits that illustrate its creator’s architectural savvy. When Rollins is hitting on all cylinders, wisdom and vigor spill from his horn. Some tenor players are distinctive. Sonny Rollins is often majestic.
The 76-year-old’s jazz icon is in the spotlight because Sonny, Please is one of his best discs in recent years. Lots of critics, even those who fault the saxophonist for occasionally releasing half-baked albums and working with musicians below his skill set, agree on this. Named after a phrase his late wife Lucille used to use when her husband was going off on a verbal tangent, Sonny, Please also finds Rollins the proud owner of his own record label. After years recording for Milestone, he’s created the Doxy imprint. It comes in tandem with the launch of a Web site that offers everything from classic clips to podcast portraits. The depth of his artistry was recently recognized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, which awarded Rollins its prestigious Polar Award. Always a candid interview subject, Rollins was thoughtful and self-effacing during a late December phone chat from his upstate New York home.
The holidays are here. Was Christmas a special time for you as kid?
Sure — even as an adult. I’d get presents for my wife and try to conceal them until Christmas Eve. But she knew all my tricks.
This is your second Christmas without Lucille?
Yeah. It can be overwhelming. We were together a long, long time. But I’m dealing with it. It’s part of life. But its [impact] certainly hasn’t waned. I’m still in the same bed; I think about it. Everything’s the same, except…well…You have certain memories. But it’s part of this existence we call life, and we have to deal with it as best possible. I guess on balance I’m not doing bad.
For a sec I thought you said “on ballads.”
Well, maybe on those, too!
As an artist, have you always felt that revealing emotions we all share was one of the thrills of music-making?
I never was presumptuous enough to assume that what I was doing would ever reach the heights of bringing good emotions to people. I was just sort of involved in learning how to play musical things. I’m still pretty amazed when people tell me how this music has hit them, or describe something they’ve gotten from my playing.
But you do know what they’re talking about, right? If I came up to you and effused about how the tail end of “Someday I’ll Find You” on the new disc really catches the spirit, you’d know what I mean.
Well, I wouldn’t know what you are talking about. I would know what I was trying to convey. But I wouldn’t know it affects other people. I’d be highly gratified, but I wouldn’t know what you were talking about.
Throughout the years you’ve said you like to know the lyrics of Broadway and film tunes you play. Is it to help sort out the emotions?
Yeah, basically. On songs I usually have a good idea about the lyrics in my head, enough to get the intent out there.
Your new label Doxy is named after one of your classic tunes. Do you remember where you were when you wrote “Doxy.”
Actually I think I was institutionalized when I wrote “Doxy.” The gory details…well it was back at a time when I was hooked on drugs, and while I was institutionalized my mind turned to music, and I had an opportunity to play with a band, a sort of Protestant Chapel Band – we played hymns and such. It’s not a pleasant memory. But it’s fruitful in that I was able to overcome those problems. I wrote “Doxy” during that time.
lots more after the jump…