Sonny Rollins: Gettin' It Back Together

Jazz Video Guy speaks with the saxophonist about his Chicago days

I first met Sonny Rollins when I interviewed him for a cover story in 1978 for that other jazz magazine. I took the train up from Manhattan to his upstate New York home. Lucille, his late wife, picked me up at the train station. We had a spirited conversation in the car, en route to their simple, secluded home. As I walked up the stairs to that house, unchanged since that fall day, Sonny came out to greet me. He looked about ten feet tall.

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Dragan Tasic

Sonny Rollins

I'd been listening to his music since I was a teenager, and had seen him live several times. But we'd never met. One of my friends, the late Walter Bishop, Jr., grew up in Harlem with Sonny, so we had a connection of sorts. Bish and Jackie McLean and Art Taylor and Sonny were young beboppers when Minton's Place was happening in the mid-forties.

The interview, a forecast of further endeavors, was difficult. After each question, Sonny seemed to meditate for about five minutes. Sensing I was in the presence of a rather thoughtful fellow, I left a lot of space after the answers, in case there was more to follow. And there usually was.

After the interview, he took me out to his woodshed, and so began a friendship that endures to this day.

We've done several interviews over the years, but I began working more closely with Sonny in 2005, producing his website, and shortly thereafter, when I returned to filmmaking, we began doing interviews on camera. Over the years, Sonny has become most comfortable with telephone interviews.

When I started using video, he was reticent, and still is. Two things he's said to me: "What am I, Robert Taylor?" (a reference to the 40s movie star), and "I don't want to do any more interviews. I want to be the J.D. Salinger of jazz."

But, I persist, and from time to time, I manage to put Sonny on camera, albeit briefly.

Last year, in celebration of his 80th birthday, we did some retropspecitve interviews I put together as a series, "Sonny Speaks." In this episode, "Gettin' It Back Together," Sonny discussed his Chicago days, in the mid 50s, where he relocated, temporarily, to rehabilitate his health, and his playing.

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