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Jazz in the Aquarian Age

Sonny Rollins: A Diamond in the Rough

By Published: May 15, 2012
SR: Well, I've known that Max felt that way for some time, so I'm not surprised by it.

JAA: So, is Max a little bit off base then?

SR: No, I don't think so, because Stanley Turrentine lists me as one of his all-time favorite horn players. There have been many times that he's said that what he's doing is trying to play like me—it's his version of playing like me. So it is possible that there might be some similarity in our playing. I don't have to get upset about that.

JAA: I've read that all through your life you've had problems with your teeth. Have they been bothering you lately?

SR: No, not for the past six months or so. I've got a continual problem, but I haven't been bothered a whole lot in the past six months. It's always a problem, and I've got to be careful not to cause any real damage. It interferes with my playing, and sometimes I have to lay off until I can play again.

JAA: Playing doesn't aggravate it, does it?

SR: Oh yeah, it does.

JAA: Have you been able to do just about everything you've wanted to on your horn within those six months?

SR: Oh no, of course not. But I'm able to start trying to, and I can get in a lot of work that I couldn't before. I'm always a hard person to really feel pleased about my stuff because of the type of musician I am. I'm a musician who's constantly searching. I'm more or less a diamond in the rough, rather than a polished diamond. That's the way I look at myself, and I've been described as that by one of my producers. And I think it's true because all through my live I've been developing. And it's just as well for me because it keeps me interested, and I'm never going to sound exactly the same twice. As long as the people like it, it's all right with me, because that's what I am—that's where I'm at.

I just try to keep an even keel, never mind whether they say you're great or they say you're not great. As long as you have the wherewithal to continue plying your trade, that's what you have to do.

I've learned just to try to know what I'm doing as an artist and to try to get it out—create the music, and that's it. And if they like it, OK. And if they don't, OK, as long as they know what I'm trying to do. If I can get to the place I'm trying to get to myself, then I'll be happy, and to hell with everybody else.

[Adapted from an article originally published in The Aquarian Weekly, Dec. 13—20, 1978.]

[The collaboration that Rollins mentioned with filmmaker Michel Contat in the late '70s apparently never came to fruition. But, before long, the saxophonist teamed up with director Robert Mugge for a documentary called Saxophone Colossus, released in 1986 and available on DVD. Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins (Abrams, 2010) is a notable recent book on Rollins, which, like the 1986 film, borrows its title from Rollins' iconic 1956 album for the Prestige label. The publication features photographs by John Abbott and text by Bob Blumenthal.]


Selected Discography

Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 2 (Doxy, 2011)
Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy, 2008)
Sonny Rollins, Sonny Please (EmArcy/Doxy, 2006)
Sonny Rollins, Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone, 2005)
Sonny Rollins, Sonny Rollins +3 (Milestone, 1995)
Sonny Rollins, The Solo Album (Milestone, 1985)
Milestone Jazzstars, In Concert (Milestone, 1979)
Sonny Rollins, Don't Stop the Carnival (Milestone, 1978)
Sonny Rollins, There Will Never Be Another You (ABC Impulse, 1978 [recorded 1965])
Sonny Rollins, Nucleus (Milestone, 1975)
Sonny Rollins, Sonny Rollins' Next Album (Milestone, 1972)
Sonny Rollins, Alfie (Impulse, 1966)
Sonny Rollins, The Bridge (RCA, 1962)
Sonny Rollins, A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1957)
Sonny Rollins, Way Out West (Contemporary Records, 1957)
Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners (Riverside, 1957)
Sonny Rollins, Tenor Madness (Prestige, 1956)
Clifford Brown and Max Roach, At Basin Street (Polygram, 1956)
Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus (Prestige, 1956)
Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins (Prestige, 1954)
Miles Davis, Bags' Groove (Prestige, 1954)
Miles Davis, Dig (Prestige, 1951)
Sonny Rollins, Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet (Prestige, 1951)
Bud Powell, The Amazing Bud Powell (Blue Note, 1949)
J.J. Johnson, Mad Bebop (Savoy, 1949)


Photo Credits

Page 2: Milestone Records
Page 3: Brian McMillen


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