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Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins Sonny Rollins Jos L. Knaepen
Catch as catch can. Many times interviews with musicians are done as they’re rushing to a rehearsal, while they’re desperately trying to finish a meal begun an hour ago, in the middle of practicing, putting the kids to bed or doing laundry. But on that occasion when an artist is found in a treasured moment of peace in their natural environment, it makes for a relaxed interview. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins, who describes himself as a "private, retiring person," gave that kind of interview. His environment is the Hudson Valley of New York where he finds his peace. He, along with composer Steve Reich, is this year’s recipient of the Polar Music Award presented by The Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Both officially receive their honors on May 21 in Stockholm, Sweden. A reception in their honor was held at the Consulate General of Sweden New York last month. [See the story under "Latest Jazz News," "Sonny Rollins The Polar Music Award",, at]

Jazzreview: How did you find out about the award?

Rollins: My booking agent, Ted Kurland Associates in Boston, called me and told me about it, actually.

Jazzreview: Had you ever heard of it before that time?

Rollins: Yes, vaguely, I had heard of it. But I didn’t know too much about it.

Jazzreview: What was your reaction to getting it?

Rollins: Well, y’know, I was pleased. It’s always nice to have your music recognized, especially from the government. It seems to have more legitimacy, more credence coming from a government rather than, say, from a bunch of jazz critics. I felt good about it. Whomever I had gotten an award from I would feel good about it.

Jazzreview: When was the last time that you played in Sweden?

Rollins: I played in Sweden last year, in the beginning of the year. Last spring I’d say.

Jazzreview: Would you make comparisons to the [contemporary] jazz scene there compared to the jazz scene here.

Rollins: Well, I really can’t do that because I was just there for one concert and I hadn’t been in Sweden for many years prior to that concert last year. So, I really don’t know too much about the jazz scene in Sweden so I really can’t comment on that.

Jazzreview: In general, what were your experiences in Sweden when you had been there in the past?

Rollins: Oh, well, I thought that there was something warm about the country. And I felt very comfortable over there, just as a person. It just, as they say, the vibe was good. So, I have good memories of the times that I’ve been in Sweden. The people were very congenial... I really like Sweden.

Jazzreview: I got that same feeling from the Consul General [of Sweden] that night at the reception. He welcomed everyone with open arms. He took me, a complete stranger, and talked about the artwork on the wall and the industries that they’re trying to promote in the United States and it was just I dunno. I just found it refreshing to find someone who was very proud of the work that their country was doing. I just compared it to Americans and their brashness in how they brag about [our country]. But this man was talking about art, as well as commerce.

Rollins: Well, I thought he was an engaging fellow. But also, you have to remember that Sweden is a small country compared to the United States.

Jazzreview: True enough.

Rollins: There’s only a certain amount of comparison that’s viable. That being said, I think it’s a very charming place, and I’m sure if you went there I take it you’ve been there?

Jazzreview: No.

Rollins: Oh, well. If you go there, I think that you would find that what we’re saying is true. It’s a very interesting country. I’ve visited a lot of countries, of course, in my career and Sweden is right up there.

Jazzreview: There’s a slight chance I might go to Germany or Spain this year. I’ve never been to Europe. I’m finally getting over my fear of flying. I might be able to sit on a plane for eight or nine hours.

Rollins: It’s not so bad when you take into consideration all of the other odds of accidents happening I hope you get over your fear of flying and get over there. I’m sure you’d really like it.

Jazzreview: Before the February 1 reception, had you ever met Stephen Reich?

Rollins: No.

Jazzreview: Well, you two take good pictures together. I got some pictures from the event and you look great together.

Rollins: Well, great. Y’know, we do have the same initials, "S.R". Maybe that has something to do with it. [Both laugh]

Jazzreview: What are your plans for your prize money?

Rollins: The way things are going today, I may need it to pay my taxes.[Both laugh]

Jazzreview: In New York, I’m not surprised. I know that there are a number of events linked to this award, one being where you actually go to Sweden on May 21 for the presentation. Will you be doing any playing that night?

Rollins: There is a concert, still in the planning stages, with my band. So, as soon as that gets ironed out, the schedule will probably change a bit from what they have now. So, if we do a concert there, why, good - I’ll be playing in Stockholm. I haven’t played there in a long time. Last year, I played in a place called Gotegorg [Gottenburg] which is a very nice area.

Jazzreview: Do you know if it will be recorded?

Rollins: My performance?

Jazzreview: Yeah.

Rollins: Umm..that’s a good question. The Swedish people may record it for archival purposes, but there’s no commercial recording that will be connected with this affair. There may be some Swedish TV that may record it, but that’s it.

Jazzreview: I’d like to go in another direction with this interview. At this point in your life, having more control over your musical output with Doxy Records, your Best Jazz Instrumental Solo award [for "Why Was I Born?"] at the 48th Grammy Awards, your Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2004, do you feel musically fulfilled?

Rollins: Ha let’s see. I don’t feel musically fulfilled because I’m still in the process of getting my musical act together, so to speak. Y’know, I still practice every day, I’m still composing, so I’m still in the middle of a career. I feel that I have more things to do. So I can’t say that I feel musically fulfilled yet. I feel that I’ve gotten more recognition than a lot of my departed contemporaries who probably deserved it more than I do. I’m still a work in progress, so to speak, and I’m still working at my craft daily.

Jazzreview: Who came up with the design for your website and those great t-shirts and those bucket hats. [Both laugh] I’ve told people that they’ve got to go to Sonny Rollins’ website. Those hats are so cool.

Rollins: The hats and the t-shirts are my nephew’s

Jazzreview: [Trombonist] Clifton [Anderson].

Rollins: Right...most of those are his designs. He works with another art designer and they do most of that stuff. I think he did the hats and t-shirts. He’s hands-on all that stuff and is one of, if not, the principle designer. As far as the website goes, there’s a chap that I used to he was a jazz writer many years ago. He came up here to see me and did an interview for Downbeat and he’s been writing about me anyway, when I was starting this whole new enterprise, [publicist] Terri Hinte recommended Bret Primack when we were discussing how to get a website presence. Bret, I should say, is also a friend of mine. I remember Bret schooled my wife on computers. So, Bret has been into the website business and all this stuff. He’s the man in the desert and he’s located in Tuscon, AZ. Everyone says that my website is fantastic and they all love it.

At this point, I describe to Mr. Rollins his website. He’s yet to see it. He prefers not to incorporate too much technology into his daily life. The one thing that I suggested is that he adds his discography to his website. He said it’s in the works.

Rollins: I’m looking forward to coming back to Stockholm. It’s one of my favorite places. I had some friends there, many, many years ago ex-patriots who went to live in Sweden. I don’t even know if they’re still around, but I guess I’ll see when I go there. And again, I’d like to say that it’s a great honor to receive this prize.


copyright@2007 Cheryl K. Symister-Masterson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sonny Rollins
  • Interview Date: 2/1/2007
  • Subtitle: ...Sonny Please
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