When I was 22 and playing with Blood, Sweat & Tears, [BS&T pianist] Larry Willis did some recording with Sonny Fortune, and Larry played some of that stuff for me. I’d heard other records that Sonny had been on over the years, of course, and I’d heard him live a couple of times in New York. Sonny was around a lot, playing all the time, and it was always awesome. A real homegrown kind of player, you know what I’m sayin’? He knew a whole lot but wasn’t overly schooled; it was really coming from his ears and heart and experience.
Then I got to know Sonny for real when we were doing this Four Generations of Miles project [in the early 2000s]. It was originally with George Coleman, but George wasn’t feeling so good about playing at all for a while because his wife had passed, so Sonny started doing it. Both those guys are amazing to me, but it was just a pleasure to play with Sonny. The way his vibe was, you met him and you liked him right away. Then you got to know him for a couple of gigs and you fell in love with the cat. His attitude, the way he played, the whole being was really, really special. And he played some cool shit—these snaky kinds of lines that went in and out but just seemed like they always worked out. He had tons of energy, put his heart and soul into everything he’d play, and he really knew how to connect with an audience. Whether it be a beautiful ballad or burning on rhythm changes, he’d tear it up.