This interview with Sonny Rollins was commissioned as an NEA Jazz Masters oral history in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s Jazz Oral History Program, recorded on Feb. 28, 2011 at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC. Rollins, who was 80 years old at the time, seemed to enjoy the questions and the flow of the conversation, which stretched to nearly 3 hours, pausing only to change tapes. Pt. 1 of this interview is here, followed by Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4 and 5. Photo by Larry Appelbaum.
Appelbaum: What do you think makes a good improvisation?
Rollins: A good improvisation…a good improvisation. Well, there are many good
improvisations, like we were saying, “telling a story.” That used to be, that phrase used
to be used a lot more. Lester Young always says well, “Tell a story.” And that’s it: tell,
tell a story. Make a beginning, an ending, a middle–whatever it is–but make a complete
story. Say something…you know.
Appelbaum: Is there a particular reason why you like to wander when you play?
Rollins: Um…well, you know, that’s interesting. I uh…I used to, I used to feel
different parts of the room, or different parts of any place when I was playing outside.
This, if I played my horn right here I get a different sound. If I play right there I get a
different sound. If I play it over there it’d be different. So, that was one of my
motivations for going around and seeing if I could get to a place that really had the
optimum reverberations, and this stuff. So uh…I think that’s, that was my, one of my uh
primary reasons for doing that.
Appelbaum: Again, a question sort of about process, and how you open yourself up to
let creativity flow through you: Is there some way you can prepare to do that? Or…do
you just, again, instinctively know how to open yourself up?
Rollins: Well, I don’t know what you mean when you say “open yourself up.” I mean,
how do you mean that?
Appelbaum: Well, let me rephrase the question: Where do you think creativity comes
Rollins: I think creativity comes from really the uh subconscious, which is why I, when I
play, I try to forget the, what I’ve, the rudiments of a song, see. I mean, I try to forget
the…after I’ve learned them I’ve assimilated it already. Then, after that, I want to forget
that. When I get on the stage, if I’m playing My Melancholy Baby or something, I know
My Melancholy Baby. I’ve got that already. So, I don’t want to think about that when I
get on stage, see. I want to let whatever My Melancholy Baby means to my subconscious
come up. And that’s, so that’s where creativity comes from. Someplace, I mean, I don’t
want to sound too–like we were just talking about the universe–I don’t want to sound too
grandiose here, but it’s got to be from something we don’t experience everyday. That’s
where music comes from. I mean, the kind of music we’re talking about, or, you know,
music that can inspire and this kind of stuff. You know, it comes from someplace else. It
has nothing to do with material things of any sort. It’s completely opposite of material
things, and so that’s where I try to get. And I, it’s easy for me to do this, Larry, because
when I play, as I told you, when I started as a boy I would go in the room, I didn’t know
what the fuck I was doing, but I was doing something, see, and in…in playing this stuff.
So, it’s easy for me to get in that state, because I’m kind of a “primitive,” as I’ve said.
That’s my new word to call myself: a primitive. I just do it. Automatically, I go to this
part of me which is unexplainable, and I start from there I’m just doing stuff. So,
creativity is about something completely unknown.
Appelbaum: Is it connected to…let’s call it “higher power?”
Rollins: Well, you know, I don’t want to sound too pretentious here, but, you know,
because then you gonna lose people and people are going to think, “What does he
know?” something like that. Nobody knows about higher–but let’s say it’s something
different than what we experience, we’re experiencing sitting here talking. Yeah, it’s
something else. It’s not here. It’s somewhere else. No, I don’t know where. No, I don’t
Appelbaum: Does it always happen when you’re playing, or do you
connect with that feeling walking the streets? Or…?
Rollins: There are times when I get euphoric uh moments…thoughts and, you know,
periods. But, I mean, that doesn’t mean anything. That’s just to me. When I play, that
gives me a chance to express it for everybody else–the people, you know.
Appelbaum: Yeah, I guess the related question; there was a quote, yet another quote, where you referred to preparing for performance as “getting focused and ready for battle.” And I wonder, who is it you’re fighting?
Rollins: [chuckle] Probably, my own uh…inability to, to uh…play rudiments, and to
master the technicalities of the horn, and all that stuff. You know, that, that’s probably
what I am fighting.
Appelbaum: And in that battle, who wins?
Rollins: Well, you know, it’s interesting, because uh…sometimes you think you have the
rudiments right and there’s nothing happening. So, having the rudiments right and
playing perfectly–no squeaks, no this, no that–doesn’t mean that it’s great, or that it’s
gonna reach people. So, I would say that I don’t know who wins. The battle is
something that you just have to uh focus on, and uh…we’ll see, because I don’t know.
This I, I’m in–see, real playing, you’re in, you’re in another realm. You don’t know
what’s happening up there, or out there, whatever way you want to characterize it. So, I
don’t know who wins. I, I, I don’t know how to win. That’s what I mean to say. I don’t
know how to win, see. I just have to keep doing it as I think is the…in sincerity, see.
And…hopefully some–I have a gift, as we said, I have a talent–so then it’s going to,
something positive is going to come out of it.
Appelbaum: I have a feeling I know this answer to this, but I’m gonna ask it anyway:
What’s the best thing about being a musician?
Rollins: Well, uh…I would say there’s nothing great about being a musician that’s not
greater than being an artist–a painter–or that’s not different than being a…janitor. If you
are…you see, it’s the dedication and, and that…lots of people know janitors that they think
they know, “Wow. What is this about. This guy, man. This is guy does great work, and
he keeps the place clean and everything, and he’s a real nice guy when I speak to him.
Man, he always makes me–” See, I don’t care if you’re a musician or–it doesn’t matter.
Being a musician, okay, there’s a lot of hardships to being a musician. Uh, so I don’t
think there’s anything particularly great about being a musician. I think it’s particularly
great about having a proper attitude towards life in general. If you’re–I was born with a
musical talent, so that’s what I do, but I don’t think I’m better…put in a better place
because of that. No.
Appelbaum: What are your favorite sounds in nature? And I ask this because you live not in the city, but in the countryside.
Appelbaum: What are your favorite nature sounds?
Rollins: Well, uh…I listen to birds, you know, and um…
Appelbaum: Do you ever play to them?
Rollins: Yeah, I do. I, I do play um…and I, and I am very–how should I say?–I feel very
exalted when I hear them sort of playing with me. I mean, when I hear us, you know,
what I play they–I can, ‘cause you can hear that. You can tell whether they’re
squawking, or whether they’re happy when you’re playing. So uh, yeah, I, I, I, I like that,
and I’ve done some of that. Uh, and they’re certain birds that I really like. There’s one
bird that makes a whole tone sound, you know. And that bird, I was trying to find out
what it was, so we’d–because that bird is really…those two notes, and see those notes can
be–it’s coming down and it can be a uh, it can be a ninth to a tonic. It could be a uh…it
could be a sixth to a fifth, depending–[to saxophonist Charlie Young] you’re a musician, do you understand what I’m saying?
Appelbaum: He’s a music professor at Howard University.
Rollins: Right, so you know what I mean. It’s [imitating sound] baah-baah. That’s asound. [whistling the previous sound] So, I hear this guy, and he’s really…yeah, well then that’s–I’m hearing the theme: baah-baah, up to tonic. You know, baah-baah. That’s a tonic. I mean, it’s really, he’s a hell of a cat this bird, man. I really like him, you know. And uh, but yeah, I, I, I enjoy nature sounds. That’s about the most nature that I hear is birds, you know.
Appelbaum: Did you feel your life changed when you moved out of the city…to the countryside?
Rollins: Uh…no, not really. Not really, because these, things now that I’ve been
exclusively in the country for a while, uh…I’ve always had them as part of me. See, I’ve
always been a person that was conversant with nature. So, it wasn’t a big deal to actually
be living in the country. Even when I was in the city I was, I had nature sounds, you
know what I mean. I was close to nature. It wasn’t a big, a big uh change. So, no, I
didn’t, I didn’t really notice a big, you know…difference between living in the city where
I was born and lived most of my life, and then moving to the nice quiet country. No, it
didn’t really affect me in that way.
Appelbaum: You were one of the first musicians who made conscious statements about what’s happening in the world around you. And this goes back to the Freedom Suite, and Airegin and all kinds of statements that you made. And it even extends into things like you’re concerned about, global warming, for example. And I wonder whether you think musicians, or artists, or people need to be more aware of the world around
them, and not just focused on the music in front of them?
Rollins: I am not qualified to answer that. I did what I did because it was something that
I felt strongly about. Uh…I don’t think other people might feel that strongly about it. I
don’t think other musicians should make statements, or artists should make statements. I
think uh W.E.B. Du Bois once said that, “it’s the obligation of artists to be political.” I
don’t nece–that might be true. It might be true. It might, it’s something that I…you
know, I mean it’s possible that’s true. But I am not sure that I would require that of
anybody, you know. I mean, that’s a big step to take. A person that’s really into art then
come into the secular world, that’s hard to do. I did it because I grew up in that milieu.
My grandmother was a Garveyite, and I was marching up and down for the Scottsboro
Boys, you know. [As if protesting] “Free Tom Mooney and the Scottsboro Boys. Free
Tom Mooney.” Tom Mooney was the lawyer for the Scottsboro Boys famous case,
which was, maybe people might not know about. Now, uh…so I grew up in that. That’s
why I did it. I mean, it was just something that was normal to me to do, and I felt, “Oh
wow, yeah. I got a chance to put my political views–,” yeah. But should other people do
it? Maybe. Maybe, but I wouldn’t, I, I wouldn’t uh feel that they have to do it at, at all,
Appelbaum: But it was important for you to make these statements. Did it make you
feel more connected to the world around you?
Rollins: Well, it made me feel that I was worthwhile as a human being, as a living
person doing my period. Yeah, it made me that I was uh outside of my specialty–music–I
was also in the whole world. Yeah.
Appelbaum: And do you still feel that?
Rollins: Not in the same way. I have evolved in a lot of ways. I still, I mean, you,
you would have to question me individually, because it’s very complicated here. I’ve,
you know, you, I mean, you, you would have to give me specific things–Do I feel this
way about this? Do I feel this way about that?–before I can really give you a uh…
Appelbaum: Well, let me–
Rollins: …real answer to that.
Appelbaum: Let me reframe the question: Do you think the world is coming together or
Rollins: I think…I think that…now here’s where we get back to, you said something
about “higher power” a while ago, and I didn’t want to touch that because it’s, who
knows anything? But, when you ask me something about the world, then I’m gonna
invoke higher power, to this sense: I believe in higher, a higher power created what we
have here, known as the world. You’re…My friend here sitting with the earphones on,
you’re asking me questions, my friend is over–I’m sitting here talking: things we know:
this is the world. Okay. I believe that this world is not able, it’s not able to get better or
worse. The world is the way it is for a reason. Whatever that reason is, I don’t know.
I’m not that power. I don’t know why, but it’s not able to change, you see. It’s made to
be the way it is. All we can do–now, that might be, you might take it to say, “Well, wow.
That’s a very discouraging thing. We can’t change the world.” No. No. The answer to
that is that…we do have something in our power. That is “us,” individually, see. That’s
Sonny Rollins. That’s Larry, you see? Me, individually, I can change myself, you see.
And that’s a big universe inside of me that needs to be changed, and I need to work on it,
and be a better person, and not do things which I know are not right. That’s where the
change comes: individually. I can change myself. You can change yourself. Only you,
see. That’s where the change is. The world…forget the world. The world is made to be
just the way it is. But all that’s happening in the world, it’s going to always be like that,
because it was, you know, created by something we don’t, can’t conceive of. All we
know, we were born, and grew up, and here we are living in this place. We don’t know
how we were born, or why we’re here in this life, or why are we alive? This is life. We
don’t know that. You just got consciousness as a little boy, and you’re growing up and
here we are. But what–that’s the world. We can’t change that. I don’t know what it
started. I’m not interested in that. I’m not interested in changing the world anymore.
What I’m interested in is changing Sonny Rollins, see. This is my time, my chance, this
life that I have. That’s all I can do, and that’s a big deal, as we all know. Changing
ourselves, that’s the…you know it’s easy to say, “Oh, let’s see if we can change the
world. Let’s see if we can stop people from war.” That’s baloney. The world isn’t
gonna change. The world is here to be just what it is–ignorance, and hatred, and jealousy
and all this–that’s the way the world is made. But I can change myself. If I don’t want to
hate somebody, I can do that. I can do that, see. And this, this makes sense. I finally
came to this uh enlightenment fairly recently in my life, because I would think, “Oh, gee,
the world. Wow, what a terrible place,” and “Oh, this guy is fighting, and look–” It’s
foolishness. The world is the way it is, man. We can’t do anything about the world. Our
world is us…you. I shouldn’t say “us,” I’m speaking about each person individually.
See, your world is Larry, right? You can go inside yourself and say, “Well, gee, man…”–
when you’re shaving in the morning– “gee, did I, did I really do the right thing? Did I
rush past that old woman? Yeah, I wish hadn’t.” That’s where you’re thing is at, man.
And that’s where each of our things, that’s, that’s why we’re here. That’s the short life
that we have, we have to deal with that. The rest of it doesn’t mean anything. If we’re
worrying about the world, that means we’re invading our issues, see.
Appelbaum: With that in mind, what are the things that you feel you need to change
Rollins: Oh, boy. That’s gonna take a long time. Uh…you know, there’s a lot of things.
I’m, I’n not going to be uh specific, but I’ll admit: a lot of things. Uh, when I got up
uh…when I was in New York and I uh…had to make my bed in the morning, and I was
saying, “Ah, god, I don’t want to make my bed.” That’s something…I, because I know
that that’s the correct thing to do, and I know that. So, I’m just putting that off
[inaudible]–no. That’s one little thing, but there are multitude of things of–maybe you
may think of them more important nature–I, I, I don’t know. That’s inside yourself. But,
that’s one thing, but there’s whole other things, man, that I need to change, and I’m not
going to go into them, because, you know, but suffice it to say that there’s a lot in me that
needs, that’s I know that I need to change, see. So, I’m working on that, and that’s why,
as we’re saying this life is beautiful man, ‘cause we have a chance to do something about
our existences while we’re here. This is a great privilege, man. We’re all setting up here.
We got [inaudible], we got [inaudible]. This is what it’s, this is a great gift, man. And
life is short, so don’t think that, “Oh, it’s gonna–” No, no, life is short. So, use it. And
the only way to use it is not worrying about, “Oh, the world. Wow, what a terrible thing.
Look at [Muammar al-] Gaddafi.” I mean, to hell with all that. It doesn’t mean anything.
That stuff doesn’t mean anything. It’s what you’re doing, that’s what means anything.
Appelbaum: So, there’s an external world, and then there’s the world inside.
Rollins: Well, to me there’s no external world. There is no external world. I mean, I
understand what you meant, but that–forget about, just forget if even there is an external
world. There’s only an internal world. Don’t even recognize that there is an external
Appelbaum: So, I know you’re kind of short on time now. So, maybe it’s time to wrap up with, maybe, one last question…uh, two questions. One: How do you like doing interviews?
Rollins: Well, uh…they’re part of my job, you know. That, that’s part of what I have to
Appelbaum: Do you ever learn from hearing yourself explain things?
Rollins: Well, you see, what’s happening with me, Larry, is that…all of these questions
are sort of…that question does–it’s sort of changing now, because I’m getting more
enlightened, now. I’m, I’m advancing in age, so hopefully that’s a good sign. I know
I’m not going to have five, or 100, more years to parcel out these problems. So, yeah, but
no, no. I’m…I’m changing. My, my, my views of life is, are changing…you see? And
this is…I’ve been–well, you try to do the right thing, but we all human beings, and we all
have our problems. I have as many as anybody else, but I’m willing to see that I’m now
getting to understand what my…purpose in life is, whatever it is, you see. So, I feel
completely different. Like, when you say “interviews,” well, I don’t know how I felt
when I was interviewed uh last year. Maybe I’m…that’s–I’m understanding different
things now. I’m getting new enlightenment, finally…you see. So, I feel differently about
a lot of things that I might have said before, or that uh, you know, you might have
figured, “Oh, well, I know Sonny feels this way about X, Y, Z.” Well, no, I don’t think
Appelbaum: As of 2011, on this date–February 28th–what do you think your purpose is
in this life?
Rollins: Um, my purpose, I think, is to make myself a better person. That’s the only
purpose I can have. And what is a better person? Well, again, that’s between Larry and
you, and my friend and him. I don’t, I don’t know what a better person is to everybody–
Appelbaum: What is it to you?
Rollins: To me, as I said, “Hey, why didn’t I make my bed?” “Why did I get lazy about
this?” “Why did I uh…have a feeling of jealousy about something?” “Why did I
uh…be…hateful or–” I mean, there’s, there’s a multitude things I, [chuckling] that’s
wrong with me, that I’m trying to deal with while I have this. Now, I understand what I
have to do. You know, a multitude of things, but that’s okay. I’m on the right track.
See, that’s, it’s, it’s not important uh…you know, how far you are. At least, this is my
experience. I can’t speak–it’s not important how far. I know now that I’m on the track.
I’m on the right road, see. All these revelations just came to me not long ago.
Appelbaum: What do you think triggered this, these revelations?
Rollins: Well, I’ve been, I’ve been into things all my life, man. I mean, I was brought, I
was born a guy that had it, you know. I, I, I had a uh…there was a woman writing a book,
I don’t think it’s ever going to, but…this is short. When I was a little, we used to go up
on the roof of a house, and we used to, and there was a path where people would walk
from one block–I told you that, that Edgecombe was one long block, remember? Okay,
right behind it was another long block: St. Nicholas Place. If you lived one place
[inaudible] you had to walk all the way around. So, there was a shortcut between the
buildings that people would walk, so they could get access without having to walk all the
way around these blocks. We used to, we used to think it was fun–I mean, I was eight,
nine years old or something–we used to think it was fun to go up on the roof, and there
was some loose mortar there, and as people were coming by, you know, this shortcut
there, we’d drop the mortar down and scare people, you know. So, boy, that was a big
joke. One day, I was up there and I said, “Boy, here comes a guy,” and I dropped this
mortar–and this was a heavy piece of mortar from, from the roofing–and it came down,
and I saw that it was going to hit this guy. And if this thing hit this guy from six, seven
stories up…okay? And I began to pray [pause]. And I began to pray, man, and I…you
know. I prayed hard man, because I knew that, what would happen if it hit this guy. And
I began to pray, and, I mean, I prayed hard, man. And BANG, it fell next to him. It
didn’t hit him. And I said, so that was, I mean, that was one of the earlier things. I mean,
I’ve always been a person that knew that there was some kind of inner…something,
“conscious,” whatever you want to call it. So, I was aware of that all the time. All my
life. I’m a kid. And uh, so that’s what, this is nothing new in a way. I’m just getting to
the point where I’m able to, to access it, and to use it in my everyday life now, see.
Appelbaum: Um, there’s…a word…that is often thrown around, especially in the professional fields, and that is “success.” And I wonder, for you, as a musician, but also as a man, how do you measure success?
Rollins: Well [chuckling]…success, wow. Well, I hate to think in the terms of uh the
world we live in, the material world we live in, but uh it’s successful when I can uh…I
feel that success is uh…uh being able to uh…take a town-car instead of having to uh take
the train. Being able to do things of that sort. Uh, being able to buy the food that
uh…whatever it is I want regardless of the price. I mean, it’s no exorbitant, but going by,
having the ability to do, in the material life. So, that’s in a way, that’s sort of, of a
uh…what they call “success.” I mean, all of these words and things to me, Larry, are
so…inadequate, really, to talk about the uh…you know, the important things of life. I
Appelbaum: Well, then let me ask it this way: What are those important things in life
for you right now?
Rollins: It’s being able to be a better person, myself. That’s all it’s about. Being able to
be a better person. Not lie to myself. Not bullshit myself. Not try to bullshit somebody
else. Not–all of that, that’s all that, that’s all that matters. That’s all it is. The rest of it
doesn’t mean anything, man. If I’m doing that, then I am doing, what I conceive, the
most any of us can do as individuals, born, human beings on Earth. That’s dealing with
ourselves. Dealing with your inner-self, man. Knowing what–‘cause you know what’s
wrong or right that you do. Nobody–you, you know that. Addressing that yourself,
that’s it. That’s the greatest thing…and trying to make, trying to make it uh better. That’s
all it’s about now for me. The rest of it is, the rest of it is part of that. That’s the thing.
The rest of it all depends on my doing that first.
Appelbaum: I hope you will continue.
Appelbaum: I trust you will.
Rollins: I mean, I’ll continue as long as life, this life, continues here–sure. Because after
all this–I’m 80 years old now, man. I’m 80 fucking years old. So, I had to learn
something in 80 years, so I got that much. So, yeah, sure. I mean, there’s, there’s no
turning back, you know. There’s not turning back now. I mean, there’s…
Appelbaum: I know that you have…an awareness of who you are, and you are, you have a genuine kind of humility in keeping your ego in check, but I just wonder whether you’re aware of the stature that you have…for other musicians, for other people, how you inspire them?
Rollins: Uh, I try not to, and I’ve always–I mean, this is something before my recent
realizations. No, no, I don’t want to think about that. Again, because, Larry, I know
what great people have done. I’ve been, I’ve been around [John] Coltrane. I’ve been
around Miles [Davis]. I’ve been around Monk. I know what great guys have
accomplished. So, I have to put myself against them and say, “Well, gee, now, can I be
great?” No, it’s a lot of bullshit. I, I don’t, I don’t care about…I mean, if people think
that about me, “Okay great, great, that’s fine.” I mean, but I don’t…I have no comment.
I have no conception of their thoughts about me. It doesn’t mean anything to me, see.
I’m still living in myself, trying to get myself right before thinking, “Wow, gee…Jo Jones
really thought I was a great guy. So, wow, maybe I’m doing something–” I don’t care
about who thought what. I care about what I know, and I know I’m still not there. I’m
doing a lot of stuff I need to do, man…see. Once I get that done, I can worry about the
rest, but, but…you know.
Appelbaum: The best thing you can be is who you are.
Rollins: Only thing you can be. It’s the only thing you can be is who you are, and once
you address that then you’re going to be the best you can be, and that’s all we can be.
You want to be the best Larry you can be, see. I want to be the best Sonny I can be, and
once we do that, man, we’re, we’re safe. There’s nothing to fear. There’s no, nobody
can hurt you. Nobody can kill you. Nothing, man…‘cause you’re living for, you’re doing
what you have to do, man. It’s, I mean it’s, it’s, it’s so beautiful it’s incredible. But
uh…it’s a wonderful gift, man. That’s, that’s why I say that we had be-, being born man,
and being sentient beings here, too. I mean, this is…this is out of the world, man. See,
that’s why life is beautiful. There’s nothing that can happen in life that would change–
now, I’ll just say this last thing. I say–I have these friends that have this saying “it’s all
good.” You’ve heard that, “it’s all good”–well, I believe that, too, and uh I’m gonna be
tested on that. I’m sure I will be, because I say, “it’s all good.” Whatever happens to me
personally, anything that happens to me personally, is good, because I…it’s part of what I
have brought on myself in some way, and I have to deal with the things that happen to
me, you know. Without going too far into metaphysics and all that, but whatever
happens to me–it’s good. I deserve it for some reason…see. So, this is the test I’m gonna
have to deal with, man, because something catastrophic can happen, then I’m gonna have
to say, “Well, gee, is it really all good?” You know, then, then that’s gonna be a test for
me. I think I’m ready to say that, and I’m ready to be tested, man, see, because I believe
that. Nothing can happen to me now that’s “bad.” Nothing can happen to me now, man,
‘cause I’m–you know why? ‘Cause I’m trying to do the best thing for me, and “the best
thing for me” means I’m not hurting you. When you go out the do I’m not gonna say,
“Wow, this guy’s got a $100 bill in his pocket. Let me pull that out while he goes–” I’m not doing that…to anybody, in any way, anything close to that. So, therefore, once I
know then I’m, I’m cool, man. I, I don’t care what–nobody can fuck with me or nothing.
What can you do? I’m straight. I’m straight with myself. That’s all it’s about.
Appelbaum: There’s a great old song, and I think it’s appropriate for me to tell you: I’m Glad There Is You.
Rollins: Well…[chuckling]. See, now, he’s gonna say, see that’s, the problem with that
is that you are making this ego thing again. “Well, gee, Sonny, you’re…you’re a good
guy, and I’m glad–”
Appelbaum: I’m just sharing my feelings.
Rollins: Yeah, but I mean it’s a, it’s a, sharing in that way you are putting me under the
test to say, “Well, gee, man, I’m gonna put it on Sonny now to say, ‘Hey, man, you’re
really a good guy.’” Well, okay, but it’s…I could, I could take the test. I’ll take the test.
Rollins: Because, I don’t think, “I’m a good guy.” No, no. I don’t think that way.
Inside of me: that’s where I want to be a good guy. When I think that, then I’m cool.
Other than that, if you say, “Oh, Sonny, you’re really a great guy, man. Sonny, you’re
really a great musician.” If I don’t feel it completely then…you know, it doesn’t, I got to
feel it here. I’ve got do it here. I’ve got to be true to Sonny, and that’s my uh 80 years on
this planet have gotten me now, see.
Appelbaum: That’s still…I’m grateful. That’s all I’ll say.
Appelbaum: I’m not saying you’re a great person. I’m not saying you’re a great musician–even though I think so–I’m not saying that. I’m just saying I’m grateful that you took the time to talk with us today…
Rollins: Okay, thank you.
Appelbaum: And I’m grateful for being able to tell you that.
Rollins: Okay, well, I, I, I, I hope I’ve said something which…you know, like my music
you’d say, “I like–” Okay, good. I hope, I hope I have, my music says something to you,
and evidently it does, and I’m grateful for that. But, see, most of that is–90%
remember?–a gift. So, I can’t feel, “Oh, I’m a great musician.” No. That was a gift, see.
I was given that talent. I didn’t work hard for it. I was given that. So, it keeps me in my
Appelbaum: Well, let’s just say that I’m especially glad for the gift.
Rollins: Well, thank you. I’m glad for the gift of you asking me questions. I’m glad for
the gift of my friend here. I’m glad for the gift of my–you see? It’s all, we’re all…
Appelbaum: It’s all a gift.
Rollins: It’s all a gift. And we all have it, man, and that’s why when you said, “Do I
want to–glad to be a musician? What does it feel–?” Anybody is, is uh, you know, the,
the, whatever we’re here for. Who knows what the fuck it is? I don’t know, but I know
that it’s about inside of me. I know I can’t put it on the world, and say, “Oh, the world is
fucked up?” No, no. I gotta make me straight. That’s all it’s about. I know that.
Appelbaum: Thank you.
Rollins: Okay. Thank you, Larry.
For more on the Smithsonian Institution’s Jazz Oral History Program (http://bit.ly/efqGXA) and the NEA’s Jazz Masters Program (http://www.nea.gov/honors/jazz/index.html). Special thanks to Sonny Rollins, Ken Kimery and Terri Hinte.