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Sonny Fortune: In Pursuit Of Music

By Published: September 19, 2006

AAJ: Out of all the many gigs you've played, history will be judging you by only a few records?

SF: [still laughing] I've done played a billion, probably, solos, over all the years that I've been playing. And how many recordings have I done? So, that is one of my illnesses right there. I just think that recording is somewhat unfair. But you have to treat it like what it is, and that is a moment that you kind of get a chance to wear your suit and tie.

AAJ: By that you mean you're a little bit more polite on your records.

SF: Yeah. At least, that is how I see it. You have to be more deliberate, more clear, more controlled. Those kinds of things that you should have all the time, but at a moment such as recording, because it is what it is and it is that moment, sometimes it's a moment [laughs] that you say, "Wow, I wish that moment never came about. And then sometimes, what you'd like to say, and I certainly would say about these Blue Note recordings, and the Continuum recording, is that they are moments that I feel very good about. Even though I know that they're only moments.

Sonny FortuneAAJ: Do you feel that you learned some things about the recording process making records as a sideman with Miles Davis.?

SF: Well I've learned something in all of my experiences in recording and what I've learned is pretty much what I just said a minute ago. To give more detail to that, I've learned that you've got to kind of organize that moment. Speaking for me, being responsible for the date, for the session—you've got to kind of organize that moment. Time is money; you've got to create a product that you feel good about; you've got to get the guys in the mood and feeling good about the moment. I say it's hard to come out on the gig and say, "Poof! Hey, let's play some music. It's not that kind of a setting. That is my explanation for why I haven't [recorded live yet], because I've heard that question often. I say that the recordings that I've heard of Charlie Parker that have knocked me clear off my feet are when he was in a club somewhere playing, on a gig somewhere playing and he was just playing.

AAJ: He wasn't concerned with making a record.

SF: As a matter of fact this new CD that just came out [with Bird and Diz] at Town Hall [1947]. Man, I can't believe it! And I can't believe Dizzy. I can't believe either one of those cats. I can't believe Dizzy Gillespie on that date. So, you know, this music is very difficult, it's complicated from the standpoint [phew!] that when it's all said and done, you've got to make contact. [laughs] Otherwise, it's like whistling in the wind or something. You've got to say something that you mean, that can be felt and interpreted in some kind of way and yet you're not working off of a lyric or words that someone can just grab a hold of. So, it's not easy, recording.

One of things, to tell you the truth I was just thinking about it yesterday. One of the things that I also like about having my own label, is that I can record when I want to. Now this is really stretching way out there, but since you're talking to me, asking me the questions, it'll be me giving the answers—and that is that I just think that recording every whatever [period], because your contract says so, puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on you. I feel very good that, because that was kind of what I had with Blue Note, you know, I recorded every year. And remember that a couple of those years [I thought] "Wow! I'm not sure I know what I want to do here. Much to my surprise though, I came out with a product that I felt very good about, but it wasn't something that, you know, I just don't find it that easy to ...

AAJ: Record on demand?

SF: Yeah! Thank you, I guess that's what I was trying to find the words to say.

AAJ: A lot of what is traditional practice in the recording industry kind of goes against the grain of the creative jazz musician's regular behavior. Many musicians are used to playing from 9pm to 3am. Then they have to go and make a record from 9am to 3pm.

SF: Yeah, that's part of it, too. But you know, when you talk about the jazz musician, when you talk about the spontaneous creative musician, I mean [laughs] he's definitely walking on a different kind of platform, anyway. Late hours, you're right. Early in the morning, you're right. I mean the whole nine yards, but the music itself kind of represents this as well. The thing that I love about it is that the music itself has no boundaries; it expands itself as far as your imagination can go. I often say that it's something that could really only happen over here in an environment where, the people in the United States, well the people in New York are progressive.

AAJ: You pretty much only work as a leader these days. Although you have a good record as a sideman with Miles, McCoy [Tyner], Nat Adderley, Elvin Jones...

SF: Mongo Santamaria, Buddy Rich. Yeah, I've worked with a lot of great people.

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