It was nothing short of fascinating: Saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the legendary jazz giant, streaming live, in an interview/conversation prompted by a weak and rather mean-spirited “satire” piece in The New Yorker.
“That hurt me,” Rollins, 83, said about the article. “Never mind me. It’s saying some very, very insulting things about jazz, very derogatory things about jazz. VERY derogatory things about jazz — the way it sounds, the way it’s played, the musicians, everything. I can’t even read the article now … can’t take it.
“They got to some people that really thought it was me. And what they were saying was scurrilous. It was nothing funny about that.”
Sonny, a brilliant, and highly spiritual creative artist, spoke with “Jazz Video Guy” Bret Primack, and touched on a variety of topics, including his disappointment when concluding that some readers believed the mag’s piece to be a real interview; his fondness for Mad magazine; the pitfalls of technology; the recurrence of the “jazz is dead” myth; his early years in Harlem; and his interest in truth seeking.
Along the way, he quoted Aldous Huxley, Plato, and Charles Mingus, and made passing references to Fats Waller, Louis Jordan, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.
Most encouraging, for jazz fans, was his vow to return to the stage in a big way sometimes in 2015.
“I’m writing a lot of music, i’m thinking about a lot of music, I’m planning for a lot of music, and I’m anxious to get back,” he said “Because my legacy is not complete yet. I’m getting to a point. I feel like I’m close enough that I can make a better representation of my life — Sonny Rollins, a musician. Have a little more to say. So that’s what I’m doing now.”
Some of his most quotable quotes from the interview:
— “A lie goes around the world before the truth can put on its shoes. That’s too bad. That’s what technology has gotten us into now.”
— “Music is the 18th dimension. It’s something we are lucky to have.”
— “People love jazz all over the world. There’s something about jazz — the feeling, syncopation, the spirit of it. It makes people feel good. It’s a great spirit.”
— “They’re trying to kill jazz. But you can’t kill a spirit”
— “Jazz is one of the most humorous musics around. In my own playing, people say, ‘Oh, did you hear what Sonny played? That was really funny. Jazz has a since of humor.
— “Jazz has been mocked, minimalized, marginalized throughout its whole history. Jazz is on the bottom of the floor here. … Why not satirize the rich and the powerful. Satirize that. Try to change something in the world.”
“It’s (jazz) something real. It’s something important in this world. It doesn’t hurt anybody. It helps people. It makes people feel better. It gives people something to strive for.”
— “When I was a boy, they used to call me ‘Jester.” I used to make jokes … and all that. So I love humor.”
— “Jazz is free music. Jazz used to typify America. America used to be the land of the free, home of the brave, remember? That’s what jazz is. It typifies that — Its syncopations, its melodies, the way you improvise, you pull things out of the air. That’s genius. And that’s jazz.”
— “Jazz isn’t going to die. And why should it die? Do you want freedom to die?”
— “Music is beyond politics. It’s beyond economics.
— “There’s something beautiful about life as expressed through music.”
— “One day, as a boy, it came to me that I was going to be successful in my career, in my life as a musician. And I have. So I don’t know if everybody is going to be as successful as I am, or not. But that’s not the point. Everybody can’t be John Coltrane. Everybody can’t be Miles Davis. But we need music, still. So we have to have people playing music. People want to hear music.”
— “When I play my saxophone, I get into a zone. That’s where truth exists. All these kids that are trying to learn their instruments — that’s where they should be. That’s the most beautiful place in the world. You’re not hurting anybody. You’re learning. You’re trying to communicate with whatever higher power you believe in. That’s where we should be going. That’s why this piece was so damaging. Because it mocked that.”
— “Music is celestial. Let’s not forget that.”