Jazz Man – Sonny Rollins
The world of jazz has its share of giants, and among those still alive and kicking no one looms larger than improvisational saxaphonist and composer Sonny Rollins. He and his horn will be in New Hampshire later this month when he receives the Edward MacDowell Medal at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough. Medal day is always the second Sunday in August (Aug. 15th this year) and it’s the one day a year the public is invited to enter this world-renowned haven for art and tour its forest studded with tiny cottages, each providing a retreat for some remarkable artist. The presentation speaker will be eminent jazz writer, critic and Colony Fellow Gary Giddins. Admission is free.This can’t be your first time in New Hampshire. I played at Dartmouth a couple of years ago. It’s a lovely campus.
Your only other connection to the state that I know of is that you were featured in Ken Burns’ PBS series on Jazz. Ken lives in Walpole. Actually I have an aversion to a lot of the jazz retrospectives. This is nothing against Ken Burns personally. He seems to be a nice fellow, but I didn’t want to participate in the show. I feel that jazz has been so misrepresented for so long.
Do you ever think of your life as a series of chapters of tracks on an album, or is it more like a long improvisation? It’s not over yet, although as you reach 80 you feel, well, it’s not going to last that much longer. I haven’t segmentized it yet because I’m still right in the middle of it. There certainly will be a time when I can look back and say Sonny Rollin’s blue period, Sonny Rollin’s orange period or whatever. But right now it’s all just one long road. I practice every day. I write as much as I’m inspired to write music. I think I’m getting closer to my musical idea.
How does jazz make the world a better place? Most people would have pretty drab lives if not for art and music. When I travel around the world, people are happy when they hear jazz. It gives them a sense of hope that life can be better. It’s intellectual music, it’s visceral music and it has a spiritual force to it.
Jazz marked a major change in music. Is jazz still able to change? Interesting question. I would never be one to limit the possibilities of what jazz could be. I don’t know what more it could do, except that I feel instinctively that there’s always more. It’s just like life. The basic thing about jazz is not changeable, that it’s a spiritual thing, but it’s a developing music, sure. If you’ll excuse the expression, I don’t think jazz has shot its load.
Think you might find some inspiration while visiting MacDowell? Many years ago I heard a song by Edward MacDowell: “To a Wild Rose.” When I became a professional musician I recorded that song and played it, so he reached me, so to speak, many years ago.
– Interview by Rick Broussard