Sonny Rollins on Life and Legacy

The American jazz musician and composer talks to David Marchese at Vulture
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins

What sorts of feelings did putting your archives in order stir up? That material is the stuff of your life, and now you’re giving it away.
I could say it put me in a reflective mood, but most of the archiving itself was done by someone else, and the truth is that my life has been in a reflective mode for some years now. Maybe my whole life has been in that mode. It’s gotten more that way since I became unable to blow by horn. That was hard. I’ve thought a lot about what I’ve done musically, what I could’ve done, what I might’ve done.

What’s the nature of those thoughts?
What’s the meaning of life? Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing?

Have you come up with any answers?
You know, I listen to the radio a lot and there’s a guy that comes on and says, “Have a good day today and enjoy.” I hate the word “enjoy.” Because to me life is not about enjoyment or, in other words, getting for yourself. That’s not why we’re here. The reason of life, to me, is all about giving. Giving is what gives me happiness. Making somebody else happy is the greatest thing you can do.

Even though you can’t play anymore, it must bring you some satisfaction to know that you gave people so much through your music.
Not really.

Why not?
I’m thrilled when somebody tells me that listening to my music gives them some solace or peace, but I played music for myself, too. I was getting something out of it. So I don’t consider my musical gifts as any kind of servitude. It wasn’t giving of myself, because I got too much out of it. I had to play music. I had to. It’s something I wanted to do when I was a child. That’s like a gift to me. It’s not me giving. Do you understand what I mean?


So if not through your music, how have you been able to give?
By being a nice person. By going by the golden rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. Trying to observe that rule, trying to be kind, not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings. It’s just about thinking of others, and how you can do something for them. I’m okay. I’m not worrying about the ending. I’ve gotten so much in my life, so much love — more from the public than I probably deserve. My life now is about what I can do for others. That’s what life means. That’s what it should always mean.

— David Marchese, Vulture

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