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A Fireside Chat with Sonny Rollins (2001)

AAJ Staff By

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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.
All that has been written and all that has been said about Sonny Rollins certainly has more wealth than anything I could scribe. I am only a fan of Rollins and on most days, I need not be more. His albums are a part of the lore of jazz and his legacy historical and he has won more awards than I have fingers and toes.

This is the latest of many sittings I have been privileged enough to have with Rollins. He spoke at length about just that legacy and it was my honor to be graced with his time. As always, I bring it to you in its entirety, unedited and in his own words.

Fred Jung: Let's start from the beginning.

Sonny Rollins: I think I was musically inclined. I grew up in a musical household with older brothers and sisters that were into music. I heard a lot of music around the house. I grew up in Harlem. There was a lot of music around where we grew up. I heard a lot of guys, Fats Waller, all these people. So I was born at the right time, in the right place, really.

FJ: It was the golden age of jazz.

SR: Oh, yeah, Fred. I think so. There were a lot of great jazz musicians playing at that time and I quickly chose the saxophone. I had the people I liked like Coleman Hawkins and all those guys who I was able to follow and listen to their records. They lived, actually lived close by me in the community in those days. So I think I was really fortunate to be interested in music and to be born and to grow up in that sort of atmosphere.

There was so much jazz music around me and so much culture that was happening in that part of the city, in that community uptown we used to call Sugar Hill. It was great. I knew I wanted to play soon when I was about six, seven years old. I liked the way the saxophone looked and I was beginning to recognize guys that played. Everything just sort of came in together just at the right time.

FJ: For those not fortunate enough to have heard your playing, how would you describe the sound of your tenor saxophone?

SR: I think it's a very humanistic sound. It's sort of the sound of a person, probably very masculine, male sound. It has so many expressions. So many different artists can sound different on the same instrument. As you know, Fred, we have Coleman Hawkins. We have... everybody that's anybody had their own sound, Ben Webster, John Coltrane, Don Byas. All of these people had, all great musicians had different sounds so that you could recognize them as soon as you heard them.

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