Sonny Rollins: A Diamond in the Rough
JAA: So there was no reluctance on your part, then, to go on the all-star Milestone Jazzstars package.
SR: The tour was a tremendous promotional thing, because McCoy, Ron , and I are all with the same label, so the company was able to give all our records a boost by having us play together. This was one of the considerations that persuaded me to do it, but I wouldn't want to play in that context all the time.
JAA: Speaking of new records, besides your recent Don't Stop the Carnival on Milestone, There Will Never Be Another You, on ABC Impulse is a live recording, never before released, that was done at the Museum of Modern art in 1965.
SR: That performance is memorable to me because I used two drummers at the same time for that concert, and also the ambience of the museum was to my liking in that I was able to saunter around a little bit. There were a lot of works of art there in the museum's statuary garden, and there was also a pool there. I had to be careful not to hold my horn up too high or I would fall into the pool. I remember I came close to it several times... At the time that was made, I was making records for ABC, and I knew the performance was being recorded, but it wasn't supposed to be recorded as an album... It's just another case of a record company going through its archives and taking things and putting them out.
JAA: Outside of resting a bit after the Milestone Jazzstars tour, what's in store for you in the near future?
SR: Well, we're going to resume our concerts. We've got a few college dates coming up, and there's a tour of Japan coming up in the early part of next year. I'll be working with the same group that I played with at Newport last summer, with Al Foster, Mark Soskin, Jerry Harris, and Sammy Figueroa. Also, it's possible that we're going to start working on a motion picture.
JAA: That sounds interesting. I really enjoyed the music you did for Alfie.
SR: I'm glad you liked that. This will also be something of that sort, although it will be a story about the music in New York Cityabout myself and the people in New York playing music. It will be more concerning music; it won't be a background score.
JAA: Will this be a feature film?
SR: It will be a feature film. We're planning on that. A good friend of mine from Switzerland, Michel Contat, will be doing the film. Finances are in the process of being gathered, and we hope to be shooting in about seven months or thereabouts. It'll be mainly about me, I guess, but not really, because it'll also be about the music of the people that I play with and have played with, and people that play in New York City. It'll also be about a lot of things that happen in the city, and how the city has been a catalyst for a lot of the music that has come out. We haven't got everything done yet, but the script is being readied. JAA: The Milestone Jazzstars tour put you in an acoustic setting, with none of the electric instruments you've used in your own groups lately. Will you going back in this direction with your own groups, too?
SR: Well, I'm not really too much into acoustic versus electric. I'm more interested in using whatever sounds good in a particular context, and whatever I can relate to as a musician that can be compatible with me, Sonny Rollins. So it doesn't matter if it's electric or acoustic, as long as it can fit into what's happening at the time.
JAA: Even though you've used electric instruments a good deal in your groups, you've never actually gotten into it much with your own instrument. For example, you've never used any of those new electronic devises they've devised for the saxophone.
SR: No, I haven't. There are some things that can be done, but you've got to be careful with those things because the sax then becomes a different instrument. I've tried out a few of them, but if I'm going to plug in a sax just to sound like five saxophones playing at the same time, or to sound like a guitar, then there's really no purpose in doing it.
You know, a lot of that stuff I can do without any electronics. In fact, I think they got the idea for the Varitone from me. A representative of that company had heard me playing when I was trying to play two or three notes at the same time, and not long after that they came out with the Varitone, which did something very similar. I hate to be quite that immodest about it, but it is possible that it was influenced by what I was doing. But nevertheless, I think that you can get a lot of sounds out of the horn itself without all that stuff.
JAA: Have you read what Max Roach said about you in Downbeat recently? He seemed to be criticizing you for the direction you've taken in recent years. He said that it's OK for players like Stanley Turrentine to sound like Stanley Turrentine, but when Sonny Rollins tries to sound like Stanley Turrentine because a producer thinks he should, Sonny Rollins isn't being fair to his audience.