Interview: Sonny Rollins
Marc Myers has a wonderful way of getting people to relax and open up in an interview. This recent one with Sonny Rollins in his new home in Woodstock covers topics not usually discussed in Rollins interviews. But don’t miss his investigative skills by clicking on his “Anatomy Of A Song” column, in which he discovers the etymology of the Four Tops anthem “Reach Out”.
-Michael CuscunaRead More
Dissection of Classic Solo: Sonny Rollins Blue 7
Sonny Rollins and the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation (excerpt) by Gunther Schuller The Jazz Review, Vol. 1, No. 1 (November 1958)
A close analysis of Rollins ’ three solos on Blue 7 reveals many subtle relationships to the main theme and its 3-bar sequel. The original segmentation is preserved throughout. Rollins ’ phrases are mostly short, and extended rests (generally from three to five beats) separate all the phrases \u2014 a n excellent example of how welltimed silence can become a part of a musical phrase.
There are intermittent allusions to the motivic fragments of his opening statement. At one point he introduces new material, which, however, is also varied and developed in the ensuing improvisation. This occurs four bars before Max Roach’s extended solo. A partial repetition of these bars after Max has finished serves to build a kind of frame around the drum solo. In this, Rollins ’ second full solo, thematic variation becomes more continuous than in his first time around. After a brief restatement of part of the original theme, Rollins gradually evolves a short sixteenth-note run which is based on our ex. 1, part a.
He reworks this motive at half the rhythmic value, a musical device called diminution. It also provides a good example of how a phrase upon repetition can be shifted to different beats of the measure thus showing the phrase always in a new light. In this case Rollins plays the run six times; as is shown in ex. 3 the phrase starts once on the third beat, once on the second, once on the fourth and three times on the first beat.
Another device Rollins uses is the combining and overlapping of two motives. In his eighth chorus, Rollins, after reiterating ex. 2, part a, continues with part b, but without notice suddenly converts it into another short motive (Ex. 4) originally stated in the second chorus.
But the crowning achievement of Rollins ’ solo is his 11th, 12th and 13th choruses in which out of twenty-eight measures all but six are directly derived from the opening and two further measures are related to the four-bar section introducing Max’ s drum solo. Such structural cohesiveness\u2014without sacrificing expressiveness and rhythmic drive or swing\u2014one has come to expect from the composer who spends days or weeks writing a given passage. It is another matter to achieve this in an on-the-spur-of-the-moment extemporization. (Ex. 6)
The final Rollins touch occurs in the last twelve bars in which the theme, already reduced to an almost rock-bottom minimum, is drained of all excess notes, and the rests in the original are filled out by long held notes. The result is pure melodic essence (Ex. 7.) What more perfect way to end and sum up all that came before!View Video
Rare Sonny Rollins Quartet With Don Cherry
This 1962 Rome television appears by the short-lived Sonny Rollins quartet with Don Cherry, Howard Grimes and Billy Higgins is a killer! They tear into Monk’s “52nd Street Theme”.
-Michael CuscunaView Video
Sonny Rollins Interview
This recent interview with Sonny Rollins for SF Weekly is brief, but Dave Pehling gets right to the point with a number of excellent questions that gets Sonny to address his long, rich past as well as his current state of mind and never-ending quest for new music.
-Michael CuscunaRead More