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Book Excerpts

Sunny Murray: On Taking the Leap from One Reality to Another

By Published: July 18, 2010
"Maybe. Anyway, I opened the door and brought my drums in after me. Cecil was lying in bed and he just looked at me. It was a depressing period for him—nobody wanted to play with him. I said, 'You don't mind?' And he said, 'Uh-uh.' And I set 'em up. But I was too nervous to start playing with the cat in bed like that. It took me about three weeks to decide, well, I'm gonna play anyway. I've got to practice, and my drums is over there now, and he said, 'Okay, go ahead.' So I played. But he wouldn't get out of bed, and his windows was open, and snow was on the windowsill up about twelve inches, and I'd be trying to talk to him and shivering, and finally I said. 'I can't talk to you like this. Can I please close your windows?' And he said, 'Yeah, okay.'

"I'd been practicing there with a big coat on and I was getting tired of it. Then, one day, Cecil did get up to play with me. He got up to play on his beat-up upright and said, 'I want you to play something like you never played before.' I said, 'What do you mean? Like a drum solo?' And I started to play a drum solo, and Cecil said, 'No. Stop. Just—with me—let yourself play.' Just let myself play. I thought that was kind of weird at first. But you understand what he meant by 'just let yourself play.' He meant like not to be hung up on artificial rules and roles and disciplines and orders that have been set up and which limit what you can express—or to be daring or hip while still playing within the restrictions of those rules, you know, like playing on one. He meant like to go outside of those rules and roles, you know what I'm saying? Like to go outside of time' and to play naturally—out of the natural rules and rhythms of my body.

"Also to really listen to him and to play with him, not just behind him as an accompanist. Dig all the energy that is liberated with this kind of playing and the things that can happen when two or three or four or a dozen cats are playing together like that. The spiritual things that can happen. Like if Charlie Parker had really let himself go twenty-five years ago we would be past all the shit by now and really out there. This is a whole new freedom and a whole new system of music. And dig the revolutionary...enormousness of it."

"He calls it 'exchanges of energy.'"

"'Exchanges of energy.' Right. I have to admit that I didn't understand all of this right away. I was the first drummer to play the 'New Thing' and for a long time I wasn't really sure about what I was doing. It seemed like what I was playing was unnatural, not natural. I was very disturbed. I listened to tapes of myself and I wondered if I was going crazy. It was a couple of years until I understood that Cecil was leading me into a new system. Those were difficult years for me, particularly because of the attempts on my life that happened during this period."

"Yeah, I'm waiting to hear this."

"Okay. Like I went over to the Vanguard one night—I had moved to West 11th Street by then—and I got into a discussion with some dude about the music, and he said that this music was crazy and would never survive. I laughed him off and went outside. But when I got to the corner there was a Thunderbird parked there with the lights on real bright. Something said to me, don't walk in front of that car, that's the dude you were arguing with. I thought I was being paranoid, so I walked in front of the car. And Jim, if it wasn't a fucking movie scene! I had to dive and I landed right on my fucking ass. The car took off. I got up and just stood there, and I thought, why the fuck do they want to run me over?

"I started to walk toward my house and I saw the car again. It was turning a corner and coming toward me. I ran into the house and I went into a vacant apartment. There wasn't nothing there but a mattress—wasn't even no lock on the door. I looked out the window and there's two dudes getting out of the car and heading toward the building. I went to the door, which had a window—a misty window that you couldn't really see through, but you could see the silhouettes. These dudes were standing in the hall looking for my room. I heard one say, 'Do you know which apartment he went into?' One was a soul cat and one was Italian. They were standing right in front of the door—all they had to do was push it.


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