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BM: Do you remember the first thing that you heard by Sonny on record?
WS: I can’t remember. But I was about 15 going on 16 when I first heard him. I heard Sonny and then Ike Quebec and then Charlie Rouse...but I wasn’t analyzing anything then. All I can remember was hearing them and then knowing that Sonny had something that was really happening. He had a lot of rhythm and all this stuff, and he would leap out at things and take it and express something. So you would see the actual force, you’d feel that statement that Sonny made; in a certain way like Charlie Parker did too.
BM: So you didn’t really analyze his playing?
WS: No, I never really analyzed it. I never hardly even talked about it but it was just a feeling. Like right now I have a cd of Coltrane talking and playing. And I also have a cd of Charlie Parker giving music lessons to a young student. And what Charlie Parker says to the young student -- Charlie plays and then the young student plays, and he’s playing scales and everything. And the student says, “You mean, Mr. Parker, I have to memorize all these scales, all these things? And Bird -- he had that deep voice -- says, “Yes, but if you can play within your mind! With Sonny, I never really met him until that time at Sugar Hill shortly after Clifford Brown died, but I was listening to him all through the years. He was always there; he had that excitement and that full sound. In other words, what I liked about Sonny was he had that full sound all the way up and down the horn. The high range and the low range of his horn was full -- as full as you can be, you know? And only a few people had that -- Trane and a lot of the old guys had that. Nowadays guys are whistling on the tenor, playing the high register notes and overtones on the tenor. And that’s getting up in the soprano range. But Sonny’s content was alway like a full meal -- the meat and potatoes and salad and everything there.
BM: Any techniques or musical devices that he uses to create this distinctive sound?
WS: No, I think he just worked at it from a young age. Someone asked Trane what was it like when he played with Monk at the Five Spot and he would go out of the form of what Monk’s music was...Misterioso or “Straight No Chaser or whatever it was. And Trane said Monk would leave the bandstand and go sit in the audience and enjoy himself listening to Trane going out with Wilbur Ware playing bass. And then the question was asked, “Is it legitimate to go off on your own tangent or something like that? They asked Trane, “What is it like when you do that, when you go away? How do you feel about that? And he said, “You know when it’s the truth. And that’s why Monk was sitting out there having himself a good time. He said, “Now I get a chance to hear some music. I used to say this all the time: “Nobody entertains the entertainer. As Red Buttons used to say at the Friars Club Roast...he’d say, “Moses. He parted the Red Sea. Never had a dinner! And he goes on with all these great people...Never had a dinner! Now Red Buttons got some rhythm.
BM: Timing is everything...laying back just a bit before he delivers the punch line.
BM: Do you have any favorite Sonny Rollins records?
WS: No, I don’t...just the whole total of Sonny Rollins. I don’t have many records in my house. I have Sonny’s music in my pores, in my body, in my entity. It’s like when people fight about the word ‘jazz’ and what jazz is supposed to sound like and everything. I know what jazz is supposed to sound like. To me, the word ‘jazz’ means going ahead....the whole development of democracy. Jazz is democracy in progress. It’s a work in progress. And what jazz is supposed to sound like...people are getting tied up with and involved with formality rather than substance...formality and familiarity.
This is from the classic Wayne Shorter album "Speak No Evil." Enjoy!