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Sonny Rollins and David S. Ware: Sonny Meets David

By Published: October 21, 2005

SR: I think that when people refer to Lester Young telling a story, they might have that sort of mixed up with the fact that he was very close to Billie Holiday and when Lester would play a song for instance, play a song that has lyrics to it, he would think of the lyrics while he was playing the song. I know that a very famous analogy about Lester but also telling a story that's in another sense as well, telling a story or a song with lyrics and sort of doing bad. I mean you can tell a story, some kind of a story, intelligible story without lyrics.

I don't know how I can say it, somebody was critiquing me one time, he was writing a review so he would saying, "Sonny, the way Sonny plays, he asks a question in one thing and then he answers it in the next chorus, so in the next phrase and actually I know what he was talking about." I do that sometimes so I'm telling a story in that sense. So I would say telling a story means whatever style you play, it means being intelligent and intelligible to people listening to you so whatever you are playing they can understand and not just oh gee this guy has a good technics or he's got a beautiful sound. Telling a story means saying something to the people so that they can say, "yeah," like if they were reading a book. That would be my comment about that.

DSW: About story telling sometimes over the past recent years, I got a young cat player coming over who wants to study with me sometimes I tell them you want to get involved in jazz, I tell them "do you have a story to tell, just ask yourself, do you have a story to tell" I feel that's basically what this music is about man, you got a story to tell. You got something that you want to express to the world. That's really something: do you have a story to tell or don't you.

FM: What do you think about that word "jazz ?

SR: Well, I feel that's it's too late now because jazz is such a universal word now, but I think... I don't necessarily feel that it is necessarily negative or anything like that. I mean, I think that is good when people also can say something like "American classical music or "black classical music, you know, any of those other terms are good also and should be used whenever there is an opportunity to do so. But in the meantime, I'm not gonna get myself exercised over the word jazz because it's so... everywhere we look there is the word jazz, you know.

I don't worry about it, but as I said, I think it can also be referred to as black classical music or "African American classical music or any other term... "American classical music because jazz is really "American classical music, so yeah you know jazz is OK with me also but as I said I'd like to see some other names used sometimes in connection with the music. Whatever someone wants to call it that fits is alright but I don't get upset about jazz because it would be exercised in futility.

DSW: From my viewpoint, Sonny, you see what they do with me, man, they love to categorize me. In other words, if they say I'm a great this or great that it's always "avant garde. If you're a great player, a great saxophonist, then you are a great saxophone player. Why do they have to make a distinction you know, avant-garde, Ware he is avant garde this, avant-garde that so as a result it's like always... it's almost like they scare people away, you know. Well (they say) "this music is not for large amounts of people, they won't give us a chance, they prejudice people by using that category of thinking you know...

SR: Yes, right I agree with that, right.

DSW: So it's a problem for us, for me and I hope that somehow the music itself will overcome that.

FM: Of course, there is pop music, rock music, classical music, there is a lot of music. In the USA, what is the importance of jazz music according to you and for the African American people, because there is also rap music. Do African American people recognize really the importance of that tradition, that memory, that culture.

SR: I'm a person that thinks that jazz music is like the umbrella and everything fits under that. So that music is under the umbrella of jazz music. And rhythm and blues, even though it's a strongly distinct music, rhythm and blues players would like to be able to play jazz, most of rhythm and blues players I've met in my career thought of jazz as being the umbrella up over them. And I feel that rap music it's the same in that. It's a form of jazz.

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