Sunday Wax Bits
Sonny Rollins. Today is Sonny Rollins' birthday. He's 78 years old. We often forget just how important Sonny is, not only for the music he recorded and the jazz path he cleared but also for his passion and commitment to art. Few things matter more to Sonny than music and continuing his development as an artist. Sonny's life-long commitment and determination to break through to the next creative level make him singular, even among jazz musicians, and his effort inspires all of us. Fans may think he has contributed more than his fair share to jazz, but for Sonny, there's still plenty of work to be done.
Sonny's social detachment is frequently mischaracterized as aloofness or introversion. Not so. Sonny is as humble, polite and engaging as can be. Interactions with people, technology and even supermarkets are jarring because all distract Sonny from his thoughts about music and finding new ways to express his ideas. All great artists are like this. They're constantly communicating with themselves and wrestling with their creative sides, pushing themselves into uncomfortable territory to take aesthetic risks. The hassles of everyday activities like long lines, changing fax machines cartridges and calls to customer service are doubly frustratingly for them.
AT: Do you play for yourself, the musicians or the audience?
SR: I would say I'm playing for the sake of the music. This is my first appearance since 1969. One of the reasons I stopped then was because things had got to a pointwhere I found that playing was getting to be a real job and a chore, which I didn't dig. I spend as much money as necessary to get equipment, clothes or whatever I need to make an impression and to be into the music. It's all done for the music, regardless of what it costs me. Many people have said that I have a lot of energy, which I do because I'm playing for the music. For instance, I played a three-hour set one night in a nightclub, and they were trying to get us off the stage to turn the house over. In other words, I'm playing and thinking about trying to get the music across and nothing else. Time doesn't matter." [Pictured: Sonny and Art Taylor in 1994]
Once you understand this about Sonny—that clock time doesn't matter—you understand the artist. George Wein, in his autobiography,Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (with Nate Chinen), elaborated on this theme:
"In September 1963, the Sonny Rollins band traveled to Japan on a tour I had organized...I went to the airport [in New York] to see them off....There was one problem: no Sonny. We waited near the gate and therewas no sign of him. All of the flight's passengers had boarded, and the crew was preparing to shut the door to the plane. Finally, the tenor man showed up.
I hailed him: 'Sonny, what happened?'
'I was over at Western Airlines. I didn't think Eastern Airlines flew to the West Coast.' I didn't stop to ponder the logic of his assumption. 'Well, you've got two or three minutes to make the flight. Let's get you on that plane.' We hustled Sonny through the checkpoint...and stood by as Sonny turned a corner and walked in the direction of the gate...We waited eight or nine minutes before Sonny Rollins came back into view. He shrugged. 'They shut the door on me.' "
For Sonny, it has always been about jazz and the music.
Now for some Sonny news: On October 28, Doxy Records will releaseSonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 1,the first in a series of live recordings taken from Sonny's concert performances over the last 10 years.
Finally, sit back and enjoy videographer Bret Primack's birthday tribute to Sonny here. In addition to his many creative talents, Bret also manages Sonny's hip website. Click on the link, and you'll find a trove of Sonnyana to enjoy. Be sure to catch a video that Bret taped and edited of fans in New York explaining why they came to see Sonny perform in Central Park on August 6. Thanks Bret, and happy birthday Sonny!