Sonny Rollins and David S. Ware, two of today's most important jazz musicians, are friends. For the first time, they speak together to the press about their music and spirituality.
This interview has been published, in part, in France (Jazz Magazine), Germany (Jazz Thing), Portugal (Jazz.pt), Denmark (Jazzznytt) and Spain (Cuadernos de Jazz). The entire text appears here for the first time.
Sonny Rollins: My first meeting with David that I recall was, I think David's parents took him down to see me in the Village...
David S. Ware: At the Village Vanguard.
SR: Was it at the Village Vanguard ?
DSW: Yeah, you know, man, in the 60s, around 1966. I had two saxophone bodies and we would come down on week ends. The first time I saw you in a club was at the Five Spot in 1964.
SR: That's what I was thinking about.
DSW: And I was there with a friend but I don't think I actually met you there. I don't recall. I think I wanted to but I was talking to Roy McCurdy (Sonny Rollins' drummer at that time) a lot.
SR: I remember that so maybe I might have met you. Did you come there with your parents ?
DSW: Well, let me see, yeah, that was at the Village Vanguard. We did come down there one time, I think, you know...
SR: You know, I'm getting old, I don't remember so well.
DSW: That's alright man, that's cool. I know I encountered you a lot at the Village Vanguard. Do you remember in 1969, man, Marc (Marc Edwards, the drummer) and I met you on the corner, late one night, on the corner of 8th street and 6th avenue, you were shopping there and you had like two bags full of fruits, man, and I asked you at that time, I said I want to play for you and then shortly after that I came over to your apartment and I played for you. Do you remember ?
SR: Vaguely, not completely...
DSW: That was the beginning, you know, when we started to practise together.
DSW: I was just telling Franck the story, man, the night that you taught me circular breathing, you took us home after he concert at the Vanguard and you showed us how to circular breathe. I was 16 years old, man, you know, that was a big deal for me.
SR: Well, that's a very profound technique. There are a lot of spiritual ramifications.
DSW: Yeah, I know it's used quite extensively in India, Tibet, Nepal and so forth and so on.
SR: Right, and the indian snake charmers, they employ that.
DSW: Aborigines I think too...
SR: Yeah, aboriginal art.
DSW: Do you find that you've been using it, I mean, in the later years, that technique?
SR: Yes, I still use it. I use it now, not so much when I am sort of, well, I use it more now a certain way, as an actual, sort of at the end of songs that we are maying as to extend the last notes, but in different period of time. And at this time, at the end of a song is usually at a higher level. So that if you extend the ending note tone of a song, if you extend that at this particular time, you hatch everybody at a higher point. And plus sometimes if the drummer is not expecting it, you make them really... I don't want to be mean but sometimes I get the feeling they don't respond enough... At any rate I use it like that occasionally for a special effect, see, and as far as I am playing I use it in practising, I practise that. When I practise I keep doing that.
DSW: You see that's just the opposite of what I do. I don't practise it. I used to when I first learnt it from you. You see the way I use it now, that's just like pure inspiration in a performance. I play if it comes then it comes and I just go with it you know...
SR: You are actually extemporizing while using it.
DSW: Yeah, you know, I am very fond at times of the upper register, the false, the harmonics up there and usually I will hold it up there. Usually I will do it up there, but very rarely I will do it in the normal register of the saxophone.
SR: OK, now, I know one of your secrets... [laughs]
Franck Médioni: With tenor saxophones, there is this idea of a transmission, a memory and an oral tradition. For example, I think about the 1963 RCA recording with Coleman Hawkins, Sonny meets Hawk.
SR: Oh yes, are you referring to the way that Mr Hawkins seems to play in a way that is speech-like?
DSW: I think that more what he says relates to the tenor saxophone tradition, the line that runs through the tenor saxophones. I mean there is like a line, like a transmission where the cats are able to carry on the tradition. I mean it is nothing that happens like formally or anything like that. But there are certain cats that are able to... like somehow a younger cat will catch something about how to express and and how to project, you know? That's carried on from one generation to the next.
I think that first of all you are born with it. For example, with you, man, there was something about you or your aura and your projection that wanted to... that made me want to follow what you were doing, and more or less try to carry it on, just like carry it on and develop it...