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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  December 28, 2011 12:00am-12:30am EST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. known as one of the great saxophonists of all time, he was named the kennedy center honorees. and fellow jazz great charlie parker. sonny rollins has a great new cd called road shows volume to. we're glad you have joined us for jazz legend sonny rollins coming out right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is
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proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one e. tim on nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: it is an honor to welcome sonny rollins to this program, the iconic jazz saxophonist was recently named a kennedy center honorees for this year, a much deserved and extremely high honor. he also has sonny rollins road shows volume to. it is an honor to have you on
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this program. >> it is an honor to finally get a chance to meet you and be on the show. i watch it, i am with you. tavis: i have been waiting on this for a long time. i want to start with the click of something you have said to interviewer 20 years ago, maybe 1986. you might remember this, maybe not. >> i don't feel i am the greatest anything, i feel like i am developing. as far as i am concerned, i am still proving it to myself all the time. tavis: that was 1986, do you feel that same way? >> exactly the same way. tavis: at 81, you are still getting better? >> even though music is one of these things that which, fortunately, there is no and to
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music. if your the person that can absorb it, it can do more. i am that type of person. i have been with some great musicians. and i know what to the greatness is. there are great musicians coming up. i don't think i am there yet. i am still practicing every day. i am still composing, and i am innocent. i am not sitting back and playing golf. that is not my style. tavis: i believe in practice, but when you are the master of this, what are you practicing for every day. not just minutes, but hours every day.
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>> hi practice for two hours or more if i have the strength of the stamina. it is something that is -- you say, this is why i am so lucky. jazz is not something that you can put in a book and practice, this is my lesson. it goes on and on. to get to that place, or something else. it is america's classical music into the great music that is. there is no and. miles used to say that like some great musicians, how about this? it is great, but he plays the same thing all the time. he is a great thing, but it is the same. you don't have to do that. a jazz musician can be
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different all the time. that is the kind of thing i am striving for. tavis: in your career, you have taken to sabbaticals. what in the late '50s and one in 66. the first one really strikes me as interesting because you were at the top of your game. you still are, but at that point you were hurled the dollar around the world as the man. from 59-61, you took a sabbatical. why did you do that? >> because i believe in myself. i was being told by everybody, you the man, don't go away. people will forget about you. something inside me says that you have to prove, you have a cold rain, cold and, these boys coming out -- coltrane, coleman,
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these boys coming up. i will do what i feel i have to do, which is to practice my horn and get away. that is what i had to do, just get away from the scene completely. and do what something inside of me told me to do. that is what i want from my whole life, that i did something regardless of what everybody was saying. it don't mean nothing. i have to know that. tavis: how difficult is that, to go your own way or to do something different and better? >> is not that difficult. you have to do it because if you don't, your life is going to be short changed.
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you are shortchanging yourself. you see, so it might be a little hard. i was lucky. i was able to work well, i was on sabbatical. but you have got to do it. get right with yourself. that is what life is about. the rest of it don't mean nothing. get right with yourself. tavis: i like that. i like that, sonny rollins. you mentioned your old lady, i will call her your wife. she passed away in 2004. you took a sabbatical a couple of times that she was the breadwinner. how important was it for you all those years to have that kind of partner? that kind of hell for? that allowed you to pursue your -- that kind of helper?
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that allowed you to pursue what you wanted and get right with yourself? >> my wife used to run the chemistry department at the university of chicago. she was working for all of these professors, seh had -- she had to do the work. my wife was a brilliant woman. she knew how to deal in life. see? so she realized the man has got to work, he has to get himself together for our whole happin ess. i had to say okay, it is time to come back now. i was having a ball just practicing.
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but you have to get back out there. tavis: what did you learn? what did you recall or take away from both times when you re- entered the stage, when you went back on the stage? what we call the reinsurance -- re-entrance. >> in 1961, a lot of people said, gee, this cat sounds the same way he did before. what is the difference? why did you go away? part of that is a little bit of truth, but it did not get to the point that i had to satisfy myself. i had to satisfy myself that i was better. you can't prove you are better in one night. it is something that comes as you go through life.
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i knew that i was better, i was able to have the confidence to get back out here. i remember that the first time, why did you go? you sound the same. but you have to know yourself, what your experiences are. never mind what people say, if you know what you want and you know who you are, if you know who the man in the mirror is, that is what it is about. tavis: i will take that, especially right about now. i will take that from sonny rollins. you mentioned your friend of few minutes ago. if there were ever a classic piece at 21 or 22 apiece, it is the bomb-diggity. in the moment, because jazz is
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so fluid, you are putting down a piece like coleman, it is going 21 minutes, i know i can't have it your body and your brain, i wish i could. what is happening that makes the piece run and run and when it is done -- >> there used to be great lionel hampton. you know him? tavis: absolutely. >> lionel hampton, when he was in his 80's, he had to be onto thento the ban -- stage. when he started playing, he was 19 again. you get consumed with the spirit, man. i got a bass player that used to
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tell me, sunny, -- sonny, we have been playing three hours and, man. tavis: the only paid for an hour and a half. >> you get consumed with the spirit. nothing matters but creating that music. i am not thinking about one set and 30 minutes, i'm not thinking like that, see. tavis: i want to ask how it feels to be one of the last great standing. i was so pleased when i heard the news of the hot air that you deserve. -- honor that you deserve. you are one of four guys, that great day in harlem, that great
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jazz photo. before you left, how does it feel to be one of the last great standing that had anybody who was anybody in it that same day in harlem? >> well, there was a time, tavis, where i looked at that photo and thought warlike people would think -- more like people would think. he's gone, he's gone, how many are left? but -- i've reached 80 years old, 81. this is hard to explain, but you don't think like that anymore. in other words, i don't want to say that i believe in life after death, but there is something
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bigger than the fact that we were all together. according to this life, there is something bigger than that. i am part of that scene. i'm part of that scene with those people. those guys supposedly are not here. the spirit of that picture is here. like the spirit of jazz, people say jazz is dead. every 10 years, you can't kill jazz. jazz is not a body, it is a spirit. that picture, just because their bodies are dead, the spirit is there, man.
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tavis: when you are on stage playing and that spirit hits you, do you feel those guys, that presents with you? charlie parker, miles davis, they had the honor of playing with you. do you feel that? >> oh, sure. in fact, there was a great trumpet player, great musicians that a lot of people don't know, clifford brown. he died tragically in an accident. i used to channel him. clifford, where to i go now, man? help me. i'd ask him that. and he would do it. i would feel better about what i was playing.
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after a while, a stop to that because he is gone onto better things. let him pursue his soul life. his soul has to go better places than back here where we are. i stopped that, but i did that for a while. i still think about coletrane, monk, all those cats. yeah. i dream about them cats at times. as i said, it's the spirit man. i'm a blessed cat, to play with these people. dizzie gillespie, charlie parker, miles davis. these are the people that were sent here to create this music and keep this music going. priv
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i try to keep it while i am here. that is why i am practicing every day. tavis: you have been doing this for so long now, take me back to the very beginning. how did you settle on the sacks -- sax? >> i was born in harlem, i used to key all kinds of music in 1930. i became an ifici -- aficionado of lewis jordan. he was a rhythm and blues guy, the guy that was sort of an entertainer, would make jokes on the stage. like fats waller in a way.
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he had a five-piece band. that was really so -- i said, mother, you got to get -- my mother got me a second-hand alto saxophone. once i got that horn, i would go in the bedroom and i would be in there all day. come on, sonny. come out and eat supper. i was in my reverie then. when i was 7 years old or eight years old. i will tell you something, tavis. at that age, i knew that i would be a prominent musicians. tavis: how did you know that? >> i felt it. i felt that this was your life,
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man. tavis: you are basically self- taught. >> basically self-taught. tavis: that as a lot of confidence when you have nobody teaching in nothing, they will be prominent. >> i just went in the bedroom and started booing. i did not what it sounded like. [laughter] i was content. i was in my reverie, see. here, man, this is your life. this is what you're going to do. it was beautiful because i could not deviate from that. i'm still happy playing like i was when i was seven. two,s: road shows, volume
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it has the recorded at the peak in new york city. there is stuff at the top and bottom, recorded in japan. your assessment of the appreciation or the lack thereof of this american art form around the world -- >> you know, tavis, and i hope your audience knows, jazz's world music. -- jazz is world music. everybody from mongolia to m anchuria to manhattan. the whole world understands and appreciates jazz. we didn't have to make it like they heard and say, it's classic. we love that. becauseen a bit longer
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of social and political reasons. to come into jazz the way other people did. they liked jazz right away. it's here now, the whole world like jazz. there is no denying that. this is world music, america's classical music. i am not saying that is because of me, i am just a part of it. people all over the world understand that this is -- it is the thing m, man. tavis: you are the chief ambassador of it. >> ok. [laughter] tavis: which leads me to ask, how it felt for you when you heard the news that you were being honored this year as one of the kennedy center honorees.
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as my mom would say, that's high cotton. >> high cotton now, but -- in a way, it's not me, tavis. tavis, the people that came before me, what i accept this honor, it's for duke ellington who didn't get one, for lester young, for john coltrane, thelonius monk who didn't get one. thank you for this honor. i appreciate it. i'm them. that's who you're talking about, this music now. i appreciate it, not for me, for
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everybody that played, died, suffered, and made this music come out. tavis: you have such a grateful spirit. >> thank you for saying that. tavis: a kind, loving, gentle and grateful spirit. >> i have been through a lot, you know. i have been through a lot of stuff and i did not know i would get here. but i made it, i tried to be that way. tavis: how much of the hard stuff did you and your -- endure, the prison and heroin addiction, how much of that brings out the grateful nature that you have? >> i was lucky that i was able to get out of that valley of shadow of death, see. i was lucky because there were
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so many great young guys that could not get through that. i was lucky. again, how did i know i was going to become that? the same thing that -- go on, keep going on. i am grateful, but -- yeah, i paid a lot of dues, man. as a matter of fact, i am still paying dues even though i'm in the high cotton. [laughter] tavis: i am glad you paid me a visit tonight. i was thinking about how musical this conversation was, and you didn't play nothing. yet, the conversation was a musical and lyrical and genius as listening to him to a three- hour show on his horn. i am delighted at tickled to be sitting across from this legend, this icon, sonny rollins.
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the year 2011, the latest project from this master is called "sonny rollins road shows, volume 2." my absolute delight to have you on this program. >> it is my delight, and i want to say to you, i am a fan of yours, too. tavis: tell me nothing now. good night. keep the faith. [laughter] ♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at foray into movie music. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know.
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it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conver nationwides on >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> besi more. pbs.
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