Ishmael Reed interviews Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins, Take One
The Colossus


Bebop was my generation’s hip-hop. It was more than a pastime; it was an obsession. I used to play trombone with bebop groups. When I turned sixty, I enrolled in Berkeley’s Jazz School, where I studied with jazz pianist Susan Muscarella for nearly five years. I’ve continued with jazz pianist Mary Watkins. When I met Max Roach, I thanked him for keeping me out of reform school; we were too busy listening to bop to get into trouble. We’d spend hours at each others’ homes listening to the latest recordings. We dressed like beboppers. We were clean. We went around looking like Gregory Peck in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Our idea of a party was where they’d play “Moody’s Mood for Love.” We knew all the words.

Bebop musicians didn’t walk. They came at you, dancing. When Sonny Rollins descended from his studio after our interview, he was wearing this great greenish raincoat that hit him near the ankles. Rollins, who had turned sixty-six when this interview took place, said that when he was a teenager, he was impressed with the way an older trumpet player shined his shoes. Beboppers were sharp, and we were their acolytes.

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