Musical Wisdom from Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins

I won’t waste all of your time trying to introduce Sonny Rollins to you, since you already more than familiar with the music and the man. And if you aren’t…wow…

But seriously, it’s no secret that Sonny’s name belongs in the same sentence with John Coltrane, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and any one of the five or so most influential tenor players ever to live.

In this article, I wanted to collect various snippets of wisdom from the man himself in hopes of inspiring you – whether it’s inspiring you to take your playing to a whole new level of mastery, or inspiring you to look under your bed and bring out that old dust farm the goes by the name of “Conn” or “Selmer” or “King.”

The Wisdom

Sonny lists what it is that comprises just some of what jazz represents:

  • A force of nature
  • A feeling
  • A sense of liberation
  • A sense of communing with nature, with higher things
  • It’s a sense of abandon of spirit
  • It’s a sense of hope that life can be better
  • It’s a sense of happiness

“My reality is very much defined, I know what I’m trying to do…I’m still practicing, man, because I’m still alive, I’m still playing music, yes, I’m still practicing, I’m still trying to do something right. When I come to play I’m not going to just go through what I’ve done in my past career…even if people would want that.”

Sonny Rollins – It’s All Good (YouTube)

“I am always happy to be practicing. Period … I enjoy just playing my horn and going into the type of meditation that playing involves. It puts me mentally in a place that is always transcendent and above real life. I love playing just for myself. It’s a great experience.”

“Playing in public engenders new paths in your brain that you won’t get playing alone. In other words, I can learn something playing in public in five seconds. If I was learning it in private, it might take me three months to get.”

Sonny Rollins quotes on

“The audience gives me their hopes, feelings…and, you know, I give them my fears, my hopes, and so forth.”

“One performance on stage is worth maybe sx months of practicing at home because you can learn, things are so condensed…it’s the perfect experience.”

“I don’t expect anything from my audience, it’s always on me to do it. I really try not to pay attention to the audience, but the fact that they’re there, the vibrations, and so on…”

“I always wished that I had formal training”

“I want to be connecting with the subconscious, if I can call it that, because there are not to many words to describe the real deep inner part of a human being…I want to be at that place where everything is blotted out and where creativity happens, and to get there I practice, you know I’m a prolific practicer, I still practice every day…You have to have the skills, then you want to not think when you’re playing, that’s when you let whatever deep level of creativity, spirituality, I mean, you know these words are so inadequate these days but you want to get to this place where they exist.”

Sonny Rollins on Q TV (YouTube)

Photo by Bengt Nyman