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August 29, 2014, 10:12 am

Sonny Rollins still finds more to learn on sax

On Tuesday, December 27, 11:30 p.m. on WHYY, esteemed saxophonist Sonny Rollins, a 2011 recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, comes to the popular talk show “Tavis Smiley,” to discuss his latest album “Road Shows, Vol.2” and explains why, at age 81, he still practices everyday.

A two-time Grammy Award winner, Rollins grew up in Harlem and discovered the saxophone as a teenager. By the time he was 20, he had worked with some of the greats, including Miles Davis, and was mentored by Thelonious Monk. He made his first recording in 1953 and now releases music on his own label, including his latest project “Road Shows, Vol. 2.” Earlier this year, Rollins received the Medal of Arts — America’s highest honor for artistic excellence. Even so, the master musician, who is renowned for his improvisational skills, tells Smiley that he still feels motivated to practice every day.

“I try to at least practice for two hours and more if I have the strength and the stamina,” says Rollins. “See, jazz is something which is so expansive. You see, this is why I’m so lucky. Jazz is not something that you can put in a book, okay, practice, that’s my lesson. No, jazz goes on and on. You learn one thing and then, hey, here’s something else. You get to [unintelligible] and there’s something else. This is why jazz is America’s classical music and the great music that it is because there is no end, see?

“Miles used to say about some great musicians — I’d be talking and I’d just say, ‘Well how about this guy?’ Miles would say, ‘Yeah, but he’s a cliché.’ In other words, he’s great, but he plays the same thing all the time. It’s a great thing, but it’s the same. We don’t have to do that. A jazz musician can be different all the time. So that’s the kind of stuff I’m striving for, man.”

At the Kennedy Center Honors, which took place on Sunday, December 4 at the Kennedy Center Opera House, Benny Golson and Herbie Hancock honored Rollins though performances of his songs as saxophonist, and former President Bill Clinton, an avid saxophonist who said he had been a fan of Rollins since his teenage years said, “His music can bend your mind, it can break your heart, and it can make you laugh out loud. He has done things with improvisation that really no one has ever done.”

“The 34th Annual Kennedy Center Honors, recognizing Sonny Rollins, singer Barbara Cook, singer/songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and actress Meryl Streep, airs at 9 p.m., Tuesday, December 27 on CBS.  


Contact Tribune entertainment reporter Kimberly C. Roberts at (215) 893-5753 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .