Sonny Rollins. Today is Sonny Rollins' birthday. He's 78 years old. We often forget just how important Sonny is, not only for the music he recorded and the jazz path he cleared but also for his passion and commitment to art. Few things matter more to Sonny than music and continuing his development as an artist. Sonny's life-long commitment and determination to break through to the next creative level make him singular, even among jazz musicians, and his effort inspires all of us. Fans may think he has contributed more than his fair share to jazz, but for Sonny, there's still plenty of work to be done.
Sonny's social detachment is frequently mischaracterized as aloofness or introversion. Not so. Sonny is as humble, polite and engaging as can be. Interactions with people, technology and even supermarkets are jarring because all distract Sonny from his thoughts about music and finding new ways to express his ideas. All great artists are like this. They're constantly communicating with themselves and wrestling with their creative sides, pushing themselves into uncomfortable territory to take aesthetic risks. The hassles of everyday activities like long lines, changing fax machines cartridges and calls to customer service are doubly frustratingly for them.
AT: Do you play for yourself, the musicians or the audience?
SR: I would say I'm playing for the sake of the music. This is my first appearance since 1969. One of the reasons I stopped then was because things had got to a point where I found that playing was getting to be a real job and a chore, which I didn't dig. I spend as much money as necessary to get equipment, clothes or whatever I need to make an impression and to be into the music. It's all done for the music, regardless of what it costs me. Many people have said that I have a lot of energy, which I do because I'm playing for the music. For instance, I played a three-hour set one night in a nightclub, and they were trying to get us off the stage to turn the house over. In other words, I'm playing and thinking about trying to get the music across and nothing else. Time doesn't matter." [Pictured: Sonny and Art Taylor in 1994]
Once you understand this about Sonny—that clock time doesn't matter—you understand the artist. George Wein, in his autobiography, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (with Nate Chinen), elaborated on this theme:
"In September 1963, the Sonny Rollins band traveled to Japan on a tour I had organized...I went to the airport [in New York] to see them off....There was one problem: no Sonny. We waited near the gate and there was no sign of him. All of the flight's passengers had boarded, and the crew was preparing to shut the door to the plane. Finally, the tenor man showed up.
I hailed him: 'Sonny, what happened?'
'I was over at Western Airlines. I didn't think Eastern Airlines flew to the West Coast.' I didn't stop to ponder the logic of his assumption. 'Well, you've got two or three minutes to make the flight. Let's get you on that plane.' We hustled Sonny through the checkpoint...and stood by as Sonny turned a corner and walked in the direction of the gate...We waited eight or nine minutes before Sonny Rollins came back into view. He shrugged. 'They shut the door on me.' "
For Sonny, it has always been about jazz and the music.
Now for some Sonny news: On October 28, Doxy Records will release Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 1, the first in a series of live recordings taken from Sonny's concert performances over the last 10 years.
Finally, sit back and enjoy videographer Bret Primack's birthday tribute to Sonny here. In addition to his many creative talents, Bret also manages Sonny's hip website. Click on the link, and you'll find a trove of Sonnyana to enjoy. Be sure to catch a video that Bret taped and edited of fans in New York explaining why they came to see Sonny perform in Central Park on August 6. Thanks Bret, and happy birthday Sonny!
Henry Mancini. Following my two-part post last week on Mancini and Two for the Road, I received a flurry of terrific e-mails that included superb reader recommendations.
Jazz saxophonist, professor, producer and Grammy-winning liner-notes writer Bill Kirchner sent along the following:
"Nice post! I might add Mancini '67, a big-band jazz album that included a wonderful feature for Jack Sheldon on 'Round Midnight. When I co-produced the Big Band Renaissance box set for the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings in the mid-1990s, I included that track. Alas, that box is gone, and so is the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings."
Jazzwax reader Kurt Kolstad had the following insights:
"You're right again. As usual. Two For The Road ranks among his best. I always liked Mr. Lucky, too, for some reason...and Moment To Moment, which he co-wrote with Johnny Mercer. It's one of those haunting, halfway depressing, 'can't get it out of your mind' tunes. [Click below to listen to Moment to Moment as you continue reading today's post:]
"As you know, Mancini also co-wrote Dreamsville (with Jay Livingston and Ray Evans). The song has been covered by everyone but in my view, the definitive version is by Sarah Vaughan [Sings the Mancini Songbook, 1964]. I listened to it about a dozen times the other day in the car, where it sounds as if she's singing it directly into your ears from about six inches away! It was fabulous. What a voice, what timbre! If you don't have an attack of acute goosebumps listening to it, you ain't livin,' kid.
I've always had a slight problem with one word in the lyrics, however. 'We can see the rest of the world below us, from our pink cloud.' While I understand Livingston's meaning in this context, it is unnatural and extremely difficult for singers—even the best of them, like Sarah—to enunciate. Going from pink into cloud just doesn't flow naturally. Listen to it and you'll see what I mean."
And JazzWax reader Peter Donolo writes:
"As always, enjoying your posts about the great Henry Mancini. I'm with you on Two for the Road. In particular, I love the theme song itself. There are a couple of great vocal covers of it. Peggy Lee did it for Capitol [Somethin' Groovy!, 1967]. And an unlikely, but very affecting version, was sung by George Shearing, of all people, on his Concord album Two for the Road with Carmen McRae in 1980. Curiously, that track is a solo vocal by Shearing, who otherwise accompanies Carmen on the rest of the album."
Peter and JazzWax reader Neil Allen both noted that Playboy's Theme, while arranged for The Pink Panther by Mancini, was composed by Cy Coleman and originally used as the theme for the syndicated TV show, Playboy's Penthouse in 1959. (To hear the original TV theme, click here on the link Neil sent along and then click on the show's title in the third paragraph.)
Also, you should know about Ivan Santiago's fabulous discography of Peggy Lee. It's a labor of love and an invaluable resource.
Ben Webster, Benny Carter and Bud Shank. In response to my post on Six Rare Guest Appearances, reader John Herr had another three cameos to share:
"Read with interest your post on jazz musicians appearing on other musicians' albums. One of my faves is Ben Webster's backing of Carmen McRae on Birds of a Feather (1958), where he is billed as "a tenor man," at least on the original LP. (He may have been given a credit on a CD reissue.) Also, there are Benny Carter's anonymous interpolations in the studio orchestra for Ella Fitzgerald's Harold Arlen Songbook (1960). And Bud Shank's contributions on Julie London's All Through the Night (1965)."
Eddie Condon. Michael Steinman writes at Jazz Lives about a new Italian Jazz Institute CD of guitarist Eddie Condon's recordings between 1928 and 1968. To learn more and inquire about ordering a copy, go here.
Tomorrow: Part 1 of my five-part interview series with jazz legend and consummate composer Benny Golson.