Sonny Rollins


Headshot of a man.

Photo by John Abbott


Audio Tabs

1983 NEA Jazz Master and 2010 National Medal of Arts recipient

This week, the great tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins turned 90 years old. To celebrate, we’re revisiting my 2017 interview with this 1983 NEA Jazz Master and 2010 National Medal of Arts recipient. Sonny Rollins has been the jazz player’s jazz player and acknowledged as jazz’s greatest living improviser. He’s always been an adventurous musician-- unafraid to change or to embrace the sounds of calypso, Latin, avant-garde, funk and R&B. His solo work is unsurpassed-- either playing solo gigs or when performing with his band launching into long, extemporaneous unaccompanied cadenzas. As he said in the interview, “I like to play by myself. And, I'd like to go out and play by the water, by the ocean. I go in the park, anyplace where I can be alone with my saxophone… I always like to put all the music in my head, create it myself, patterns, ideas, thoughts, passages, anything like that… the greatest thing in the world is to be playing your instrument… because it's you and the universe.” Sonny’s universe also included many legendary musicians including Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis, and his closest friends John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. This is a thoughtful and insightful conversation with an American genius. Enjoy it.