Friday, October 26, 2012

Sonny Rollins Article

The Prague Post has this fine article on Sonny Rollins available here :

This tenor still hasn't found what he's looking for
By Tony Ozuna - For the Prague Post

At the age of 82, Sonny Rollins is the most acclaimed tenor saxophonist still active on the jazz scene. In his extended youth, he played alongside the greatest jazz players of all time, from Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but Rollins still doesn't think that he has reached his peak musically.

"I still practice every day," Rollins says over the phone from back home in New York City. "I'm still trying to get better."

Rollins entered the scene in Harlem in the late 1940s and soon began playing in clubs with Davis, who was just starting out as a leader. In 1954, Rollins recorded with one of Davis' quintets on Bags' Groove, released in 1957 on Prestige Records, contributing three key compositions: "Oleo" "Airegin" and "Doxy," now classics.

At that point, Davis was playing with either Parker, known as Bird, or Rollins, until the former was replaced because of his heroin addiction. Rollins also pulled out in 1955, owing to his own drug problem, so the tenor saxophonist Coltrane replaced him in Davis' group. However, despite the constant comparisons pushed by music critics and fans alike, Rollins and Coltrane would become friends rather than rivals.

In 1956, Rollins, as leader now, recorded Tenor Madness with Coltrane, also for Prestige, playing with Davis' rhythm section, including Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones and Red Garland.

To try to compare two genius artists such as Rollins and Coltrane at their early peaks is itself, well, madness: a pair of distinctive and equally exuberant voices at tenor not showing off or competing but instead intermingling.

Rollins had already recorded several albums as a leader, and Tenor Madness preceded Saxophone Colossus, another Prestige release and one of the most acclaimed jazz sessions of all time, by only a month. The year after, Rollins released seven acclaimed albums including A Night at the Village Vanguard. This live recording is considered to be the tenor at his peak, and yet Rollins still had doubts about his own playing and his treacherous lifestyle.

At this point, Rollins had been using heroin for at least a decade - but so had practically all of the other musicians playing around him.

"Everybody was using drugs," he laughs. "There was Miles, Bird, Monk, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Coltrane, everybody - and so what? We didn't kill anybody. We were only killing ourselves."

"We used drugs to get into a state of mind different than from the lives we had," Rollins adds. "Painters, writers, whoever you call artists, want something that takes them away from the mundane," he says. "There is nothing wrong with that. I am not encouraging young people now to go out and be using drugs - that's not what I'm saying - but, at that time, that's what we did."

In 1958, Rollins retreated from the scene, with no recordings or public performances, except for his solo practice sessions for two years on the Williamsburg Bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn. On his first recording after this hiatus, 1962's The Bridge, Rollins is mellower, especially when compared with Coltrane and the newer sounds on the scene, led by Ornette Coleman, the usher of free jazz.

Soon after Coltrane died, in 1967, Rollins took another sabbatical from recording and performances, remaining off the scene until 1972 to again reassure himself he was on the right path, musically and spiritually. These breaks may also be the key for his survival as he is such an active musician to this day, while nearly all of the other jazz greats of the 1950s and early '60s era are gone.

"[People] are talking about the golden era of jazz, and I agree with this opinion, but jazz can't stop growing," Rollins says. "I made good records, but I want to make something different now."

Rollins first performed in Prague in 1982, in the same venue as this time: the Lucerna Grand Ballroom. "I remember the people were very anxious to see us, and very kind to us," he says. "I remember it was a very warm experience, and I hope it will be the same this time."

The current group includes his nephew Clifton Anderson on trumpet, longtime collaborator Bob Cranshaw on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums, Sammy Figueroa on percussion and the newest member, Saul Rubin, on guitar. The group will play standards and classic Rollins along with newer and surprisingly vital originals.

"I'm trying to reach something musically that I haven't reached yet," Rollins says, and one wonders what that might be at this stage of an unparalleled career spanning nearly seven decades. "And, besides, I still love playing."

Rollins' last studio effort, 2006's Sonny, Please, is a critically acclaimed session. His last live releases are 2008's Road Shows: Vol. 1, featuring live recordings from the previous 30 years, and 2011's Road Shows Vol. 2, composed of shows from 2010, including Rollins' 80th birthday celebration concert in New York.

And so, still going strong, Rollins has no plans to retire anytime soon, and he certainly has no vision of where he would like to perform last, or even make his final live recording.

"I've never even thought of that question," he says. "But, wherever I would be, I hope it would be like the last one. Every concert would be like if as if it was your last night."

"Everybody should try to do it - play every concert as if it is your last time," Rollins adds. "That's what I have learned. Do everything as if it is your last time."

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