Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sonny Rollins on World Cafe

Here's another great interview from World Cafe this week. Jazz legend Sonny Rollins played with great musicians from Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis to the Rolling Stones, and is generally considered to be one of the best tenor saxophone players of all time.

There are two things that make Sonny Rollins so interesting to me. The first is that he is known for playing songs that didn't fit neatly into the genre of "jazz"...songs that were not hip or were too country or too poppy. Songs like Surrey With the Fringe on Top (from the musical "Oklahoma!) and Tennessee Waltz and I'm an Old Cowhand (a novelty tune written by Johnny Mercer). These are songs that most of his contemporaries would have shunned as being too straight or bland, but Rollins was able to improvise on the tunes and find all kinds of nuance and beauty in them.

In the World Cafe interview he explains that he simply sees music in two categories: Good and Bad.

The second thing I find interesting is that two times (so far) in his career, Sonny Rollins simply stepped out of the music business for a "sabbatical." The first time, he explains to David Dye, he stepped out because he felt like he needed to go "back into the woodshed" and improve his playing. According to legend, he practiced out on a bridge every day to spare his neighbors the noise. The second time was because he felt he needed to explore and deepen his spiritual life.

It's very out of the ordinary and difficult to have the wherewithal to step away from the forward thrust of our everyday lives and take some time to work on personal improvement. I hope I can emulate that quality, if not in such dramatic chunks of time, perhaps in small ways. A sabbatical of a week perhaps, or even 15 minutes of thoughtful walking each day. Practicing the piano more diligently. Taking the time to really study the songwriters I love. Making sure my family knows how much I love them. We really do have such limits on our time these days. But I do believe that at least within certain limits we can choose how we use that time. And that choice will make all the difference.

Here's an article from the New York Times about Sonny Rollins' new album, Sonny, Please.

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