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Interviews

Sonny Rollins: Hardy Perennial

By Published: November 28, 2006


September 11, 2001

AAJ: Let's fast forward in time. During the last few years, your career has really taken off again, as it has often in the past, but it's been a difficult few years for the entire nation and for you personally. You were actually living in lower Manhattan when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11. Then, shortly after that you did a concert in Boston dedicated to the victims and survivors. I wonder if you could share what that difficult time was like for you, your reflections about being caught right in the middle of those hellish hours.

SR: I lived on the top floor—the 39th floor—of my apartment building which was about six blocks from the World Trade Center. So I was up there getting ready to go out, and I heard this plane flying in.

AAJ: Oh, my God!

SR: So I heard this plane flying rather low.

AAJ: You were that close!

SR: Then all of a sudden I heard, "Pow! And I thought, gee, what happened, and it sounded like it could have been a small plane down by the river. My apartment faced north, so I didn't see the actual Towers. I went downstairs, and sure enough the Towers were burning, and people were crying in the streets, and there was really bedlam. And then, the second Tower came down, and it didn't fall over, but imploded on itself, or it would have gotten everybody on the street. Then it was just pandemonium. And we couldn't leave the area because it was quarantined, so I went back upstairs and turned on the radio. And then I did a stupid thing—I took out my horn and started practicing! It sounds kind of stupid, but what else could I do—I couldn't go anywhere. But then I began to feel queasy, so I stopped. Days later, I realized I was inhaling all the toxic smoke and everything. And then I never slept in that apartment again, because I thought it was contaminated.

AAJ: That probably was a wise move on your part.

SR: We were all evacuated to a school beyond the limits of the area. But after that, I came up here to my home in upstate New York, but a lot of my neighbors didn't have another place. And a lot of them got sick—they have respiratory problems. It's a big political issue—they wanted to re-open Wall Street, and they had everybody move back in, and it was bad. My wife persuaded me to do this concert a few days later. Everyone was still shook up.

AAJ: Was it healing for you to do the concert?

SR: Well, I guess it's always healing for me to play, but at the time of 9/11 I was so in shock, that I didn't have any feelings—they were in a different place. I was discombobulated. I had to walk down forty flights of steps when they evacuated us through the stairwell. It was a madhouse, maybe like the London Blitz.

AAJ: You just make it come alive again for us. I'll bet you were glad to get out of New York after that.

SR: But I feel sorry for the people who had to stay down in lower Manhattan. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...


Sonny, Please

AAJ: To change the subject rather radically, I just received your new CD, Sonny, Please. It's generally receiving a lot of interest, and I myself love it. For one thing, I'm wondering about the title. Is there any particular significance to it?

SR: I had written this song, and needed a title in order to play it in performance. I was at home talking with my wife about something, and suddenly she said, "Sonny, please!! [laughter.] So that became the title of the song.

AAJ: That's wonderful. Sonny, please!! I love the title of Charlie Parker's song, "Relaxin' at the Camarillo, where the Camarillo, it turns out, is the state hospital in California where he was detoxifying from heroin at the time he composed the tune!

SR: I remember him coming back with that song after his hospital stay.

AAJ: That humor is part of the music in a way, especially bebop. Now, the group you have for this album. Trombonist Clifton Anderson is wonderful. Is this your working group?

SR: Yes.

AAJ: How did that come about—how did you put the group together?

SR: I forget who the drummer was, but on the record we made from 9/11, our percussionist Kimati Dinizulu was on it. On the new record I have a new guitarist, Bobby Broom, and a new drummer, Steve Jordan. But Clifton Anderson is still there and Bob Cranshaw on bass. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...


Into the Future

AAJ: Do you still play club dates?

SR: Well nightclubs are too hard on me these days. I love playing clubs because the people are close to you, and you get a lot of feedback and energy. But you have to play two or more sets, and I'm not up to it, so I just do concerts.

AAJ: What gigs do you have coming up in the next couple of months? I know you have the Kimmel concert coming up December 1.

SR: Well, December 1st is the end of our season. I'm going to Arizona next week, for concerts in Scottsdale and Tucson. Then we do the Kimmel in Philadelphia, and that's the end of our season. Then I don't go back to work until April.

AAJ: Do you have some gigs planned for the spring and summer?

SR: Yes, we have a huge schedule for next year. I'm going to be in Boston, Westchester County in New York, Perugia in Italy, Monaco, France, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Barcelona. Then we're going to Sweden for a special concert as a guest of the King of Sweden. It's cold there!

AAJ: It's cold, but the people are beautiful.

SR: Yes, they are, and you know, I just played in Minneapolis and in Champaign, Illinois, and I found the people there to be very nice as well. The people in the interior of our country are wonderful.

AAJ: Well, you know J.J. settled in Indianapolis, his birthplace.

SR: I was very pleasantly taken by their gentility in the Midwest. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...



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