In Sunday’s Washington Post, I profile Kennedy Center Honoree Sonny Rollins, the jazz icon who tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman has cited as his greatest influence. We’ll have the Rollins profile online shortly. Meantime, check out a few extra thoughts from my chat with Redman that didn’t make it into the story.
As you’ve traveled through the jazz world, how have you felt the impact of Sonny Rollins on the music you’ve heard and the music you’ve made? Do you sense his presence?
Oh, absolutely. I don’t know if I’ve heard of a tenor saxophonist, ever, who hasn’t been influenced by Sonny Rollins… His mark on the language of saxophone playing and the language of jazz – it’s indelible. You can’t escape his influence. He’s so influential it’s almost like you don’t recognize it anymore. So much of the vocabulary of modern saxophone playing – and tenor saxophone playing – just comes from Sonny Rollins...
He also has a presence that goes beyond just music, too. There’s an aura about him. If he’s ever playing at a festival, everybody goes to see him play. There’s this sense of awe and wonder and mystery about him. There’s something larger than life about him – his music and his presence on the scene.
You’ve said that jazz musicians owe so much to him. What can jazz listeners thank him for?
We can thank him for his for his dedication to his craft and to the music over all these years. When you listen to Sonny Rollins – and especially when you go to see Sonny Rollins – he’s still, after all these years, capable of evoking such a a sound of surprise and adventure and abandon. When he’s on, he gets into this zone and [with] one tune, he can take a ten, fifteen, twenty minute solo. And it’s just this endless imagination. And that’s what improvisation is all about. There are very few people I’d want to hear take a twenty minute solo. Definitely not myself! I’ll listen to Sonny Rollins take a twenty minute solo any day...
The sense of joy and abandon and adventure and enjoyment – listening to sonny Rollins, it’s fun. He’s as deep and as heavy as they come as an improviser, but it’s joyous and it’s fun and I think that experience touches people. It touches people who may not be that familiar with the jazz language. So I think there’s something about his music that engages listeners on all levels.