A Fireside Chat with Sonny Rollins (2001)
FJ: There was a period when your playing was more free, was that a casual interest and why did you not pursue it?
SR: Well, I like all sorts of music. For my own convergence of things that just happened to come in my career at a particular time, I just didn't get into it on the level that a lot of people might have felt you had to. You had to go all the way and be all the way into a certain type of music. I don't feel wedded to any particular style. I like to incorporate things that I can, my own personal expressions.
I like free jazz. I like all kinds of music. Once I get to a style, which I am hoping I will one day before I leave the planet, I will be able to make a breakthrough in my own playing, then I will incorporate all sorts of styles. It will come out Sonny Rollins. Other than that, I think free jazz is fine. I have no problem with it.
FJ: The knock on Sonny Rollins has not been your playing but rather your supporting cast not playing to your level.
SR: In the past few years, people have spoken pretty well about my band. They've been saying that I have the best traveling band that I've had and so on. At least that's what I've seen when Lucille has shown me different reviews. So I think there was a general consensus over the years that this might have been true. Sometimes I would play as a single. I would go up and I'd get musicians from different places that I was at. I would pick up musicians and I didn't really keep a band with me to get really a tight band like MJQ or Coltrane's band or one of Miles' bands. I was a guy that kept different guys, so I could see where that might be a criticism that might have some validity. But I think that is not a comment anymore. My band gets fairly good notices now, much more so than years ago. That was true years ago, but I think that's changing now.
FJ: During the better part of the Fifties, your recording output was bordering on unimaginable. Why don't you record more now?
SR: Because it's much harder to get into the studio and play now. I'm a lot older. I have more physical things that I have to deal with. I have to deal with all the informalities that age brings on a person. I have recorded a lot of music, so any album I make, I try to do something, which is to some extent fresh in approach and has something different to say. I just don't want to make a lot of Sonny Rollins records although people say that I can do that, to just make a record with Sonny Rollins and you have documented the work. But I hate going into recording studios.
FJ: Why is that?
SR: Because I'm very conscious about how I sound and I'm one of these super-conscious people that everything I play, I want to listen to it back and I'm never satisfied. Recording has become a hard thing for me because of the modern technology, which allows you to listen back and try to make it better. That's sort of a hard deal for me.
Sometimes you can just do it. It comes out better the first or second take, but I'm a guy that likes to do more takes than that just because I like to have what is for posterity to be the best that I can be. It's just like me. I'm just a guy. I'm still practicing. Recording is something that catches you right then and puts it down forever, so I don't record more because I am more self-conscious in wanting to be more perfect or as perfect as it can be.
FJ: With success comes expectations and expectations tend to lean more towards the unreasonable, to counter that, why not do a live record and circumvent the studio altogether?
SR: I've thought about that. Maybe one of these days. I do record everything that I do, so maybe when I have the time, I'll look through and listen to some of the things that I've done and maybe if they sound worthwhile I will put it out.
FJ: Your demanding practice regimen was legendary at that time.
SR: Well, that was kind of easy for me, Fred, because I was always a person that considered myself in the learning process. I kind of got serious about music and didn't go to music school like my older brother and sister, so I always thought that I should catch up. So all my career, I've been a person that's trying to learn. I've always been trying to study and learn more.
So the period that I took off during my career too to regroup and go in the woodshed as that expression goes, which is to practice in a room, those periods were part of who I am. I was just a person who wanted to improve himself and felt that I had a long way to go and that I was not quite a finished musician, so all my career, I was always trying to learn more and get to that point where I felt a little more worthy of being on the stand and playing for people and so on. So my hiatus and my practice times when I left music were all part of me.
FJ: Have you learned enough?