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. (more…)

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Sonny Rollins during the recording of A Night at the Village Vanguard. Francis Wolff:Blue Note Records

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of Sonny Rollins‘s legendary recording,
A Night at the Village Vanguard. Writing for NPR, Nate Chinen reached out to several experts and practitioners to discuss the album’s ongoing influence:

Jon Irabagon, who calls A Night at the Village Vanguard ‘a formative album for me,’ gave it a fresh listen this week, and was struck again by its genius. ‘Rollins had one foot completely in the tradition, he was mining these standards, and he was also part of the aliveness — the surging life-quality — of jazz,’ he said. ‘Then it’s the harmonic freedom, the melodic integrity and just the playfulness that he had. It’s not beholden to some kind of codified language. There are so many surprises and twists and turns. You can hear the entire history of jazz on that record, up to that point.’

It would be misleading to imply that Rollins’ heroic performance on A Night at the Village Vanguard is primarily of interest to other saxophonists. ‘It’s a textbook example of what modern jazz improvisation should be,’ the pianist Fred Hersch pronounced in an email. ‘Sonny plays with intelligence, warmth, humor and an expressive technique that seems to know no bounds.’ Hersch, who literally wore out his first copy of the album, advises all his piano students to study it closely, ‘as a means to understanding the subtlety of phrasing and deep connection to rhythm that Sonny, Wilbur [Ware] and Elvin [Jones] display.'”

— Nate Chinen, NPR

“Throughout his career as musician, producer and collaborative lightning rod, John Zorn has never forgotten the importance of putting pen to paper. This all-chamber program of pieces spanning 2012-2016 speaks deeply to his indefatigable spirit and the obvious care with which he chooses his musicians. […] There is so much philosophy packed into this album, it feels like a living (auto)biography of which we are given a tantalizing synopsis.”

The New York City Jazz Record, via ECM Records and Beyond

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Moanin' (Blue Note, 1958)
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Moanin’ (Blue Note, 1958). Photograph by Francis Wolff, sleeve artwork by Reid Miles.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers recorded Moanin’ for Blue Note Records on October 30, 1958, fifty-nine years ago today. The bandleader, depicted on the record’s front sleeve, was born in Pittsburgh in October 1919; Blakey left school early to work in a coal mine, and then a steel mill, before putting together his first band. In interviews he described himself as an orphan who taught himself everything he needed to know, from how to play piano (without reading music) to the drums.

In 1943, Blakey made his way to New York where he found a place as a drummer with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, and made his debut recording with Billy Eckstine‘s band. After establishing a career throughout the 1940s and ’50s as an accomplished player, including dates with Miles DavisThelonious Monk, and Coleman Hawkins, Blakey joined Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. (more…)

Influential jazz pianist Thelonious Monk was born one hundred years ago today, on 10 October 1917. His angular melodies and signature percussive style were an important contribution to the development of bebop in the post-war era. Popular titles such as ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Blue Monk’, and ‘Straight, No Chaser’ are considered standards in the jazz canon.

In a recent interview for Keyboard, popular jazz writer Ashley Kahn (Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis MasterpieceA Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album) discusses the legacy of Monk’s life and compositions on the development of modern music:

“What happened from the late ‘30s into the early ‘40s at the hands of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, etc., is that someone had to be there to kind of codify it. Someone had to be there to give it a sense of it being a system that could be learned and appropriated and shared and passed on. And the best person for all of this was someone, obviously, who was going to be sitting at a keyboard, because a chordal instrument is obviously going to be better than trying to do this on a melody instrument. And Thelonious Monk was that person.”

— Ashley Kahn, Keyboard
For newcomers to Thelonious Monk, there’s the question of where to begin. If you’re interested in the composer’s complex life, Robin D. G. Kelley‘s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original is an excellent place to start. Listeners are typically recommended volumes one and two of Monk’s Blue Note sessions, which span 1947 to 1952, and there’s little doubt that they offer the definitive introduction to his exuberant and idiosyncratic style. My first Monk record was his later solo album, Thelonious Alone in San Francisco (Riverside, 1959); while it might not be characteristic of his bustling, energetic group work, the album’s reflective mood still resonates with me all these years later.