A Fireside Chat with Sonny Rollins (2001)
SR: (Laughing) I'm afraid the quest goes on, Fred. It's a good thing, but you never learn enough in music, no. You never learn enough. The only thing that could deter me is age and these things, time, that's a better way to put it, time. But, no, I don't think you ever learn everything that there is to learn, so I'm constantly learning.
I practice my horn everyday. I try to be involved in music. I try to find different ways of playing and approaching things. So that goes on. I never, I haven't reached a point where I thought that. That point, gratefully, hasn't come because I think if that did come, I think it would be a giant letdown.
FJ: Are you still keeping a rigorous touring schedule?
SR: I've been pulling back all along. Now I end up doing thirty dates a year. I will go to Europe and did seven concerts and next time I go next year, I am only doing five, so I am pulling back. Walking through airports and the rigors of hotel food and all this stuff, they can be pretty hard on a person of dare I say it, advanced age.
FJ: How do you decide?
SR: It's got to be a prestigious date. I wouldn't want to play in Joe's Saloon around the corner. It would have to be a date that has some kind of visibility. It has to be a good venue and things of that sort. That's what we look for. We play concert halls generally. Those are the things that I look for. We want to do some kind of dignified performance. I don't want to play in Joe's Saloon around the corner.
FJ: Your various playing periods with Jim Hall and Max Roach have been so lauded that I am certain some witty festival organizer has called to book a reunion.
SR: Oh, I hear that all the time, sure. I hear that all the time. As I said, human nature says that if you're not available then everybody wants you. So this is where it is. I didn't plan it this way. If you say that now I won't do that, the promoters want you more. It's a nice position to be in. Knowing show business to be as it is, you never know how long it's going to last. Let's assume that I'm at the dovetail, at the end of my journey on this planet, so that it is a good position to be in career-wise. Let's hope it stays that way.
I don't want to make a lot of money. I'm not trying to have all these cars that these rap guys have. It works perfect. I'm trying to get a spiritual understanding and get some contentment out of life. I think I've made some contributions to this music and I'm doing as much as I can handle at this time.
FJ: For the betterment of jazz, time hasn't caught up with Sonny Rollins.
SR: Well, I'm sort of a superstitious person in a way. That's the only way that I can describe it. I'm not really superstitious, but that's sort of a term I can use that most people would understand. It's a little bit more involved than superstition, but every time I read and somebody says, “Oh, gee, look at Sonny. He's still playing and he still sounds fresh. Wow, he's still playing and he still sounds youthful.” I always hate to hear that because I think it's sort of like a bugaboo, where it's a thing that people say and it's sort of like a jinx. So I hate to hear people say that.
I was playing a concert one night at a place, I forget where it was, but it was recently, this summer, and we got people clapping and everything and the MC kept saying, he kept referring to my age. He's so and so years old as if this was an achievement, the fact that I had reached that age, which of course is ridiculous. It is to me because I'm not trying to be a guy that you look at and say, “Wow, he can still play. He's ninety-five years old. Isn't that amazing.”
FJ: Like some bizarre version of Darwin's survival of the fittest, age is celebrated in this country. Morning show weathermen applaud people who have surpassed the century mark.
SR: It's sort of embarrassing to me to be hailed as somebody who is playing even though he's past thirty years old. Wow, he's still playing. This isn't the point of my playing at all. I'm trying to make music. So it's sort of a funny thing, but like you said I guess there is nothing you can do about it because people don't try to, well, I shouldn't say that because a lot of musicians, unfortunately, didn't have the longevity that I have, so I wouldn't say that I don't want to be hear. That's not true. A lot of people were unfortunate with accidents and lifestyles, and a lot of things that happened that has decimated a lot of my generation unfortunately.
FJ: Doc Cheatham comes to mind. Before any review, “the greatest 90-year-old trumpeter” was the preface.