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New Mexican (Newspaper) - October 2, 2005, Santa Fe, New Mexico epitomizes the lonely tightrope walk between spontaneity and organiza tion implicit in an improvised Rollins givesfew interviews but he graciously spent more than an hour on the phone recently talking about his creative process practice habits and stylistic traits Question A friend of mine met you once hi a music store in Boston around 1963 He remembers two things clearly First you were buy ing a guitar string to attach from the neck to the bell of your horn Sec ond you told him to play as much as possible anywhere and that youd play on the street if there were no clubs What was the point of the guitar string and would you literally play on the street Answer I was just experimenting with the concept of the guitar string I never got it to work like I hoped so I abandoned was thinking about plucking it at propitious times as accompaniment to my horn playing I might not be playing on the street but Id be playing in private in my own garret someplace Playing on the street might entail the trap pings of a professional performance but I would definitely be playing all the time Its where I find a certain meditative value to my everyday existence Its my way of meditating or praying Question How much do you practice Answer Its a little difficult these days because of the encroachments of age dental problems and all that So I cant practice as much as I would like If Im in the house and for some reason I dont get around to playing for two or three days because of a physical problem I begin to physically feel ill I used to play all day more than eight hours NbwIf I get in two hours a day I feel reasonably satisfied Question What do you practice Answer Im sort of a streamof consciousness player When I was a boy I used to play and not have anything planned and I would just be in the house playing for hours and hours So I just start out playing I do haye projects I work on vari ous chord patterns and such Right now Im working on a way to have the same facility in for instance the key of A major that I might have in C major Im trying to find a method to hear the saxophone and intervals in all the keys and be able to play anything in any key I have sheaves of manuscripts and I work off of those Im constantly writing down music walking through airports or somewhere and something comes to my mind So Ive got my pad and I refer to that as often as it takes to get these things in my head If you can go through the patterns you alleviate the mechanics of playing the horn Question Will you practice play ing a tune for 20 or 30 minutes Answer I might if Im trying to learn a tune I try to find the dead spots where Im not exactly getting whats going on and play them over and over until I can remove them I practice so that I dont have to practice when i m playing So when Im on the bandstand I dont have to think I can just let the song play itself and let the elements that come to bear on improvisation take over Question Describe the difference between the way you feel on a good night or a bad night Answer I hate to think about when Im having a good night because then youre giving me a trauma Im getting to be professional enough that I can sort of overcome the bad nights because it can give you a negative view of your own performance and you can make it worse I try to avoid thinking about having a bad night even when Im having a bad night On a good night everything just happens and you dont have to think about it Things come into my head easier If Im having a bad night I find myself thinking too much Youre not supposed to trunk Theres no time If I have to think of an idea and thenplay it by that time the moment has passed and its stale If Im thinking too much I know Ive got to change course Question Thats the great struggle of improvisation the com plex interplay of the conscious and unconscious minds Answer It is complicated but you can will yourself to do it I just try and act the other way and get to that other side of the mind where I just let things happen Question It used to be that if you werent having a good night the entire creative mechanism would appear to shut down Are you better able to work through those periods Answer Yeah thats about it Im able to work through it better Question Lets talk about the ori gins of your style First the incred ible rhythmic looseness and variety in your phrasing Answer When we were coming up we listened to all of our idols Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young We slowed down the vinyl records to hear what they were doing I did my homework But I remember an incident where I was with one of my peers in this little band we had We were playing a song and I started to solo and then he got mad and said Uh oh There he goes again Because I was beginning to play against the time but still of course within the time I guess I was beginning to perfect a way of play ing time with more elasticity I didnt particularly work on it It was how my playing matured Question What is the source of your penchant for thematic impro vising and melodic paraphrase Answer I think the fact that Im more of a linear player rather than a vertical player Playing themes and developing them was natural to my style from the getgo I didnt work on it I think of melody as the prime basic improvising tool or method I never think about rhythm Rhythm just comes to me Its some thing thats so intrinsic in the whole process that I never even think about it Question Theres also so much humor in your improvising musi cal jokes the way you play an idea and with a nutty twist the way you use melodic or rhythmic rhymes Answer Well when I was a little boy my friends used to call me the jester because I used to be a guy who was always playing jokes Its possible that carried over into my improvising Question How much of an impact did working with Thelonious Monk have given the humor in his itiusic and his use of melodic varia tion to organize solos Answer I dont know I was play ing with Monk when I was in high school so maybe theres something to that might be too facile a way to explain my playing Without denying anything I got from Monk I would want a caveat that everything might not be that simple Question Are you still having fun Answer Yeah but Idbnt like the characterization of having fun because I sort of have a Buddhist view of life Life is not necessarily to have fun If you mean Am I enjoy ing the challenge Then yes But if having fun denotes using drugs or eating a lot of ice cream or gambling then no I have fun because I realize what a tremendous privilege life is and what a tremendous opportunity we have to clean up our karma I always have fun when Im practicing my hom Performing is a little bit differ ent because Ive got a lot of respon sibility because Im so well known Question Would the ultimate for you be if you could practice and play without having to concern yourself with a career Answer That would definitely be the most fun with one caveat When youre performing it raises the level of what youre doing I can learn so much during an hour performance things that you might not get to by practicing at home for six months because theres such an intensity of concentration But other than that if theres such a place as heaven where I could be like one of those angels playing their harps Id just be playing my saxo phone 12 classic Rollins solos St Thomas Rollins landmark calypso inaugurated his lifelong fascination with Carib bean rhythms while the marriage of suspense and structure in his improvisation check out the way he manipulates the opening twonote motif captures his maturity in full flower From Saxo phone Colossus It Could Happen to You Rollins first recorded a cappella performance foreshadows the goitalone set pieces that would evolve into a hallmark of his style From The Sound of Sunny Blues for PhillyJoe An ebulliently swinging blues improvisation whose choruses comprise a textbook of thematic variation Not as elaborate as the iconic Blue Seven but a lot more fun From Newks Time Blue Old Devil Moon With an elastic bass anddrums trio anchored by Elvin Jones Rollins carves up this standard with rapier wit loosey goosey phrasing swing and a dazzling flow of spontaneous melodic and rhythmic rhyme that mark him as the greatest crjordchange player in jazz From A Night at the Village Vanguard Blue God Bless the Child Rollins sound glows like a Rembrandt interior on one of his most tender ballad performances underscored by eloquent dialogue with guitarist Jim From The Bridge If Ever I Would Leave You Rollins stretches out beautifully on this urgent bossa nova animating his organic narrative with ecstatic rhythmic phrasing tone and cocksure articulation A prime example of his 60s style From Whats New Oleo With two former members of Ornette Colemans band in tow Rollins unleashes a 25minute tour de force of streamofcon sciousness abstraction his sui generis approach to free jazz From Our Man in Jazz Three Little Words At a whirlwind tempo Rollins slices the melody into shards before reassembling them into elaborately virtu oso variations including a final coda as stunning as anything hes recorded From Sonny Rollins on Impulse 4Alfies Theme Burt Bacharach wrote the break out tune Alfie but Rollins wrote the film score including this swaggering theme His long solo austere and full of sardonic tonal inflection is a masterpiece of thematic improvis ing From Alfie Autumn Nocturne The ferocious fourminute leadoff cadenza remains an Olym pian achievement and a rare bright spot among Rollins mostly desultory records in the 70s and early 80s From Dont Stop the Carnival Mile stone and Silver City GMan An uptempo modal explo sion in which Rollins paced by drummer Marvin Smitty Smith breaks out of his recording slump He piles layers of intricate linear ideas barking riffs and willful cries during an indefatigable 15minute display of energy stamina and invention From G Man Milestone and Silver City Ive Never Been In Love Before Shad owed gloriously by Tommy Flanagan on piano Rollins blows up a storm in two separate solos his gruff elocution dense and audacious enough to earn audible shouts of encouragement from his band mates From Sonny Rollins 3 Mile The New Mexican magazine Oct 28 2005 SUNDAY 27
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