Courtesy of Sony Simmons
CHAT WITH SONNY SIMMONS
I love Sonny Simmons. Like Charles Gayle, perhaps, it is because Simmons
has witnessed adversity in the most challenging of forms. But also, like
Gayle, Simmons can play the saxophone. I wish more labels would have the
balls to record Simmons, but alas, nobody has balls these days. That is
why I am starting the Roadshow label. Send money now (we accept American
Express) and together, we may be able to document a musician worth his
weight in gold. The standard of alto playing, Mr. Sonny Simmons, unedited
and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
SONNY SIMMONS: Well, what happened here is that my daddy was a preacher
and he was first vocalist in the church. He was the pastor of the church,
Reverend J. S. Simmons. My mother, she was first female vocalist in the
church choir. We were all musical. I'm just about six years old, bright
eyed, curly haired, little black kid that loved to go to church on Sundays
and hear the music. I think I was about six years of age or six and a
half. But I do remember quite vividly my upbringing in music. My dad also,
not only being a great vocalist, he was a hell of a trap drummer. Back
in those days, they called them traps. They didn't call them drums. That's
how far back that music began with me in the backwoods of Louisiana. So
I grew up with that type of, I think I was born with it. I can't say that
I learned it as I progressed into the future of one's life. But I do think
I was born with it and it came from a long lineage of ancient fathers
and mothers and our ancestry because my daddy really had it and he was
one hell of a preacher. He's one of the greatest preachers I ever heard
preach in a church, in a Baptist church, black folks in the ghetto and
all over America. He was the greatest I heard and I've heard a lot of
preachers. But anyway, Fred, that was my background of growing up in music
because at that time, I would attend church with my dad. I would look
forward to it on Sundays. He went to the store somewhere and he bought
me an old squeeze box accordion. Black and red was the color. I never
will forget it. He just gave it to me and told me, "Look here boy.
You can learn how to play this." It was a musical instrument. He
squeezed it a little bit and sounds came out and it hypnotized me and
so I fell in love with it right away. So I looked forward to every Sunday
to bring my little squeeze box accordion. That was the only instrument
I had at the time as a kid. And I would play it in church with him every
Sunday to squeeze and press keys. It was an old, beautiful accordion,
but it was old. It played and I dug the sounds that it transmitted. That
was my earliest instrument that I could recall as a child growing up in
Louisiana, near the Gulf of Mexico with the tribal music and voodoo that
was going on at that time. The music and my blues heritage, my uncles,
a lot of them played guitar. They was all blues masters, but they never
went anywhere with it. It was just on the island with the family. My dad
was the high priest of voodoo music and when he would do the voodoo ritual,
all the peoples in the island, they would be dressed in white and they
would come to this great, big festival of voodooism, but it was all for
good. It wasn't for sticking the pin in the doll and that kind of shit.
FJ: That is Hollywood exploiting a stereotype.
SONNY SIMMONS: Yeah, that's right, Fred. It wasn't for that. It was for
good. My father would go through the voodoo ritual and he would utter
some words that I never heard since. It was for the good of peoples being
healed who were sick. It was for the good of the land that it might have
a big bumper crop. It wasn't for evil. So I don't know nothing about what
Hollywood was doing there, promoting that propaganda on black folks.
FJ: I am trying to close my eyes and imagine you as a squeeze box accordion
SONNY SIMMONS: (Laughing) You can't fit that it. Well, as the years progressed
into the future of one's life, I mean, I am six years old, six and a half
in church when this was going on. That was the only thing that my dad
could get me. He didn't get me a whistle or a horn to blow or an old,
beat up trumpet. He just went and got the squeeze box accordion and so
I appreciated that. As I grew from six and a half to ten or twelve, I
didn't have no more interest in the squeeze box. I began to evolve to
a higher level, so I would listen to a lot of music, classical music.
In fact, when I was growing up as a kid, I thought those people, those
voices I heard in the old radios, the old, wooden box radios, I thought
it was little people inside of them. That's how innocent I was because
I would hear these voices of people that I see everyday and see them talk
and I'm thinking as a kid that these are little people inside. But anyway,
my thing was all music. I put on a music station and I would sit there
all through the days sometimes when my mother asked me to do chores. I
be listening to classical music. I be listening to blues. I be listening
to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw and all those cats back in those days
and Duke Ellington and Count Basie and those are my main boys because
there was a big hit on the market in the early Forties during the War
days called "One O'Clock Jump." Boy, the brothers and sisters
wore the jukebox out putting nickels and dimes and I was right there with
them doing the same thing as a little kid growing up around the music.
As years progressed, my dad moved to California from Louisiana. He was
a traveling preacher, a minister. He found a home for us in Oakland, California,
the home of the Black Panthers, the revolutionaries in Oakland, California.
As the years went, I think I can remember very clearly, vividly about
fourteen years old, I would go see all these peoples like Duke and Basie
or Cab Calloway and Lena Horne and Louis Jordan. Man, I am telling you,
Fred, I've seen all these cats alive when I was fourteen and you had to
only pay fifty cents back then. You dig? So I am growing up around all
this music and then, as the years passed and I was going into my teens
years, I heard Charlie Parker, I was seventeen years old at the Oakland
Auditorium and man, it changed my life.
FJ: How did Bird change your life?
SONNY SIMMONS: I had never heard no music like that before, all the years
I was growing up, into my teens. To see this beautiful black man stand
up there and fill the whole auditorium with all these beautiful sounds
that I had never heard before. I fell in love with the music and also
the man who was producing it. I told my parents. I said, "I want
a saxophone." So I started out on saxophone, but really my true instrument
anglais. It is an alto oboe. It belongs to the oboe family. They call
it the English horn sometimes. I prefer to call it the cor anglais. It
is a double reed instrument. It is only played in symphony orchestras.
So I was very attracted to that instrument when I was about ten because
I used to listen to a lot of classical music and I loved the sound of
cor anglais. It is so eastern and it is so ancient. I've been playing
it for years. I grew up with this out of my teens. I've recorded many
albums with the cor anglais. And I have some new ones coming out soon
that I have now. I've been playing the cor anglais for years. They call
it the English horn. It's an alto oboe. It is very rare. But anyway, I
am still playing it. I am playing it today very frequently. In fact, when
I get back to Europe soon in the next two or three weeks, I am going to
start a string quartet featuring the cor anglais. I'm going into that
kind of music when I leave America. I'm going back to Europe to find a
place to hideaway to write for a string quartet and the cor anglais. I
want to change my style of music, maybe I can really make a living at
this instead of what I'm doing now. That's my plan, Fred. However, the
music started after Charlie Parker, where I was indoctrinated by Bird's
music and just tied it in with all these great saxophonists. They had
Lester Young and they had Illinois Jacquet. They had Diz and they had
Bud Powell and they had Ray Brown. I've seen all these cats when I was
a kid, so I come up under their influence. They had a great influence
upon me, jazz music by Afro-American people. There was a few white boys
that I dug and white ladies that could sing. I dug them too. Doris Day,
I dug her. She was a movie lady, but she had a nice voice. You see, Fred,
I dig talent. I don't care who produces it. I even dug Artie Shaw and
that was way back in the Forties and he's a white boy. And I dug a little
Benny Goodman. He didn't kill me too much.
FJ: I hear some Bird in your playing. Frankly, if Bird was around today,
I always figured he would be playing like Sonny Simmons.
SONNY SIMMONS: Obviously, you have heard some of my work. I've always
tried to be in that concept of Bird's playing, but not just sound like
FJ: In those days, everyone and their mother tried to sound like Bird.
SONNY SIMMONS: That's true. They did. I practiced everyday and I did sound
like Bird in the early days, very much so. But after growing into your
own voice, you loose some of that. You just don't deal with that, but
Bird is always with me. I can pick up my horn right now and play some
Charlie Parker because I was indoctrinated by him years ago. My recording
venue in my life has been so poorly handled so I didn't get a chance to
do a lot of these things in the early years like Seventies and Eighties,
like I should have. Now, we're in 2000, but I'm still with Bird, the new
Bird, so I am into that right now.
FJ: You referred to your recording output and the lack there of.
SONNY SIMMONS: That's true, Fred. That is what happened.
FJ: Why have record companies shied away from documenting your work?
SONNY SIMMONS: I have no idea, Fred. I really can't give an accurate answer
to that because I was under contract in California with a beautiful recording
company located in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Los Angeles, named Contemporary
Records. Lester Koenig, he took an interest in my music because he recorded
all the brothers that could play that were great artists.
FJ: He certainly did, putting it in the wind and recording Ornette (Something
Else!!!, Tomorrow is the Question!).
SONNY SIMMONS: Yeah, he did. He started off and took a chance with Ornette.
He was a great producer. My last album that I did with Contemporary, I
think I did three or four of them with that label and the last one was
a double LP, which was fashionable at that time. It was called Burning
Spirits, double album at that time. He was supposed to follow up with
another album with Elvin Jones, I mean, Coltrane's rhythm section, he
wanted to record me with them. And a month later, this cat dies of a heart
attack in his Beverly Hills mansion, in his home. He dies of a heart attack.
So my dreams went down the drain after that because I was only recording
because I was hooked up with, in the Seventies, was Contemporary Records
and Lester Koenig. God bless his soul. But he died and my whole thing
went down the drain. After they released Burning Spirits, they blacklisted
me because I spoke out about politics and about all the musicians like
Albert Ayler and Eric Dolphy and God knows who else and they thought I
was starting some kind of political thing.
FJ: Why did you speak out about Albert Ayler?
SONNY SIMMONS: Albert was a hell of a musician. He was real and he wasn't
just another saxophone player. To me, as an individual saxophone player
myself, and a person, and a fan, Albert was an innovator. He was not just
another saxophone player. He was great. He was an innovator. And he started
the new music and the avant-garde as they call it today. Albert Ayler,
he's original. He was the first cat I heard to play out like that and
then Coltrane heard him in the early Sixties and he fell in love with
him. He knew that he had something that no one else had and then he died
so suddenly. And I spoke about that in my liner notes when I done this
last recording for Contemporary Records called Burning Spirits and they
blacklisted me for twenty-five years after that. I couldn't get no dates
no more. Didn't nobody want to deal with me. I couldn't even work in clubs
anymore. I'm telling you, Fred, I went through all the Seventies with
no work. I went through the Eighties, until about 1980, I got to work
in San Francisco because I left. My family life broke up. I had raised
two kids and worked day jobs for years.
FJ: In my home, Ayler is an icon, but history has failed to recognize
SONNY SIMMONS: Because the media and the radio stations doesn't push that
kind of music and then a lot of so called jazz stations, they don't push
it either. They push commercial jazz. He had made it to the top of what
he was supposed to be about and he became a very heavy star with ABC/Paramount,
Impulse!, same company that Coltrane was with before he passed away. Bob
Theile was recording him at that time. It is just really traumatic about
how he passed away suddenly at the heap of his recognition in the East
River in New York City.
FJ: Ayler's death and the circumstances surrounding it have become urban
legend. Do you know what happened to Albert Ayler?
SONNY SIMMONS: No, I have no idea, but I have my suspicions.
FJ: And they are?
SONNY SIMMONS: I wouldn't want to say that at this time since I am already
a target for controversy and politics.
FJ: Fuck 'em.
SONNY SIMMONS: (Laughing) That's the way I feel too. OK, at that time,
I had a little studio on 6th, right here on the East Side, Lower East
Side, New York City at that time, back in the Sixties. All the cats used
to come by my studio and we would practice. I would be practicing all
the time anyway. And at that time, Woodstock was booming and I had a house
up in Woodstock at that time, so I could go from New York to there. Albert's
brother, Donnie Ayler (Donald Ayler, trumpeter), used to come by my studio
a lot. Now, Albert, he was working a lot at that time. He was in Europe
and so he got wind of what his brother was doing and so he used to come
over and bring his horn to my studio on 6th on the Lower East Side at
that time. And we would all practice together. Now, along with that, I
found out that Albert was dealing with some unsavory white boys uptown
because he was living up in Harlem at that time, him and his brother,
Donnie. They didn't want to deal with Donnie in the recording industry.
They just wanted Albert. You dig it? They didn't want to keep them together.
So Donnie used to come and tell me a lot of stories about when him and
Albert were together in the apartment. They were living together. They
were brothers. And these white boys knock on the door and he would have
to be excused from their presence. This is what Donnie used to tell me
and I thought that was very strange and unsavory and cloak and dagger
shit, something is wrong here. It really tore his brother up emotionally.
He couldn't understand that. Then I saw Albert times after that, during
that period before he died mysterious or killed mysteriously or whatever
way you want to look at it. He was shot and he had just signed a new contract
with ABC. They extended his six month contract and he was looking good,
Fred. Albert looked great. He was dressed in fashion quality clothing.
He had hundred dollar bills in his pocket and he was feeling good and
the brother deserved it and I was happy for him. So we celebrated. He
took us out to dinner, bought some drinks and we got drunk and all that
shit. After that, Albert went to Europe again. I moved from New York,
at that time, to California, back to Oakland. I was working on the road.
One day, I was driving my van on the freeway in California, at that time,
and the jazz station announced that Albert Ayler just had passed away
mysterious. His body was dragged out from the East River and the East
River is not too far from where I was living in the Lower East Side. That
messed me up. I almost got into an accident driving on the freeway at
the time when the news came over KJAZ in Oakland. It messed me up. I pulled
to the side and got out of the car. Man, I was pissed. I was tore up.
I went psycho. Yeah, I went psycho on the freeway. Motherfuckers, people
were driving by and they didn't know what's wrong with this crazy nigger
on the freeway, just going berserk. I was kicking the car. I was pounding
the motherfucking hood, just the front of the van. And shit, Fred, I just
went berserk there for about, maybe, two or three minutes. Then I got
back in the car and drove off. That was the end of my association with
Albert at that time. That's all I can tell you about the brother, Fred.
I know he was a beautiful brother. He was one hell of a musician, saxophonist
and he took it one step beyond and he was truly an innovator. He wasn't
just a saxophone player. I love Albert's music. I love Albert, period,
because we had a brief association at that time, but it was very valid.
FJ: I recall my father telling me in my youth that the company you keep
defines the man you are. By that standard, you are a man among men because
you also collaborated with Eric Dolphy as well.
SONNY SIMMONS: Oh, ah-la-lo-la-lay! I hear you brother man. Eric, Fred,
I am telling you man, the way me and Eric met, this Jew boy in New York
at that time, he had a loft on 2nd Avenue and 4th Street. Clifford Jordan
was the leader of that trip. He found this Jew boy, who was interested
in recording jazz musicians at that time. So Clifford came and got me
and took me over to the loft and the cat's name was Fred and he loved
the music. He cared about musicians. They could stay at his place if they
had no place else to go and he'd give them money to buy what they need.
He was that kind of guy. But anyway, we were rehearsing there one day.
It was Don Cherry, Grachan Monchur, the trombonist, Charles Moffett, Ornette's
drummer at that time, and Clifford Jordan, myself and also Prince Lasha
was present and that was it. We were rehearsing on some new material for
Fred and in walks Eric Dolphy. I couldn't believe it. I was sitting there
with my alto and my cor anglais and my horn almost fell down onto the
floor (laughing). Dolphy comes in and I wrote a new composition called
"Music Matador," and we were working on it and Eric said he
loved it because it reminded him of California, back home, where he was
born and raised, down in Los Angeles because a lot of Mexican people live
in the area and there's a lot of Mexican music going on that he grew up
with. The melody reminded him of his early upbringing and so he fell in
love with the melody. He asked me that he was going to take me into the
recording studio with this melody. We all were going to play. He hired
Clifford Jordan and dead in walks Woody Shaw. This kid just came into
town back then. The kid was eighteen years old. Yeah, man, in walked Woody
Shaw. I don't know how he found the date and the studio. J.C. Moses was
the drummer and Richard Davis was the bass with another bass player. I
forget this brother's name. I can't recall this brother's name, but he
was important on the date (Eddie Kahn). It was one hell of a recording
date with Eric as the leader. Our association grew from that and then
we done a second date, which came up from that one date called Iron Man
and I'm on that date also with Eric and then we just developed a beautiful
association. Each time he would come over to the loft, we would practice.
And then, he also would take lessons. I couldn't believe it. Here is a
cat that I am in awe about and his ability to play all three of these
appliances, these instruments, rather, equally (alto saxophone, bass clarinet,
and flute), not one for a showpiece or gimmick. Eric played all three
of those instruments equally and he was astounding. And so he said, "I'm
taking lessons. Do you want to take lessons," from a great teacher
in New York at that time. His name was Garvin Bushell. He had done some
recording with Coltrane on the cor anglais. It is a tune that John wrote
called "India." That was Garvin Bushell. Eric would take lessons
from this cat and he took me over there and I took some lessons too a
few times at a hundred dollars an hour that he was charging way back in
the Sixties. I learned a lot from Eric and I learned a lot from his teacher
that he was taking lessons from. That astounded me, but anyway, we developed
a real beautiful, close brother relationship. Eric was a beautiful guy.
He didn't do nothing. He was always clean cut and beautiful and he loved
the brothers who were trying to struggle to play. Coltrane was the same
way at the time because all these cats was alive then. And then, shortly
after we had grown and developed a beautiful friendship, he goes to Europe
with Mingus' band and he remains in Europe. Mingus and them come back.
They came back and left Eric there. Eric said that he was going to stay
and I don't blame him. I would stay too because he was a tremendous musician.
He passed away in 1964.
FJ: When did you get the word?
SONNY SIMMONS: I got word of it, I think it was about a week later, because
it happened in Germany. Dannie Richmond came over to my studio and told
me what really happened. I didn't like what happened, what Dannie Richmond
told me because he was with Mingus' band at that time in Germany. The
brothers that were there believe the printed matter, the newspaper media
and all that shit.
FJ: You crossed paths with Mingus.
SONNY SIMMONS: Yeah, I played with Mingus' band, back during the time
when Charlie McPherson was done and Lonnie Hillyer was the trumpet player
and I was living in San Francisco at that time when Mingus would come
through the Jazz Workshop.
FJ: Was he as much of a hard on as rumor has it?
SONNY SIMMONS: He was a motherfucker, but he was a good guy. He was just
hardcore when it came to certain things. He was very sensitive to certain
things and he would get violent.
FJ: What would set him off?
SONNY SIMMONS: Disrespect, not listening if he said something about music,
or not playing it correct and if you keep stumbling over it like you don't
care, he would get pissed off. Normally, anyone would do that at certain
times. Sometimes, he would get abnormal with it. He was that way because
we had a brief association in New York before he died. He used to come
to my studio. They just had released a new book, this book that he had
written called Bravo. You will find it if they still have it in print.
It is a hell of a book that Mingus wrote about his life. He celebrated
that and that was my last hook up with Mingus. However, when we met in
San Francisco, he wanted me to work with his band. At that time, he had
Rahsaan Roland Kirk working with him. So I was there when it was going
on and he asked me to work with him and take Rahsaan's place and I said,
"No." That's when we fell out. I was a young cat then. I think
I was about twenty-seven, twenty-eight years old. I was playing very well,
alto bebop. Rahsaan was a killer and I loved Rahsaan. At the time, we
called him Roland Kirk. We called him Roland. The brother's blind and
he's playing three horns simultaneously. I said, "No, the brother's
blind and I can't take this brother's job." He's great and I love
him because I buy his records too. And Mingus got pissed off with me.
He said, "Nobody ever turned down to work a job with me." I
said, "Man, it is not that. It is just that I don't want to take
Roland's job." It was as simple as that. He's blind and he's playing
like a motherfucker. If he was jiving, I would have took the job. But
here is a guy and he's an innovator. He is astronomical. So I just told
Mingus that I couldn't take the job.
FJ: There is an unwritten code, you don't piss in another man's pool.
SONNY SIMMONS: No, I don't do that. I don't practice that. I was raised
by Christian peoples in a manner of speaking. It didn't have much effect
on me, but I do believe in God and there is certain things that I don't
do. I've always kept that honor with myself and I feel good about it.
FJ: Historians have a perception that you "dropped out of the scene."
Did you step away willingly or were you forced out?
SONNY SIMMONS: I was forced out, Fred. I had to work on the streets of
San Francisco for fifteen years, on the streets for fifteen, long, grueling
years. I was homeless for fifteen years, working on the streets. I was
a strung out junkie. The shit fucked me up, stuff I had never done in
my life is use drugs. I didn't start using no drugs until I was forty-two
years old, Fred. That was during the Seventies when they blacklisted me
and Lester Koenig of Contemporary Records died. And I just got very manic
depressant, Fred. I went into a whole lot of shit that I had no business
dealing with, but I done it. That wasn't the tragedy. The tragedy was
for fifteen years I was in San Francisco working on the streets for nickels
and dimes, being insulted, spit up on, objects thrown at me and all kinds
of shit, police call on me like I was a dog. I done went through that
shit. It is just crazy. I hadn't disappeared. I hadn't left the music
scene. It was just that these motherfuckers wouldn't hire me. In order
to take care of myself, I had to result to that, so I used my talents
to over. I don't like what I have to do on the streets, but when you're
homeless, when Reagan came into office during the Eighties, all these
black people were on the streets and I was right there with them. I was
just a black man. They didn't give a fuck about my reputation or about
my occupation, none of that shit. And I'm just playing saxophone on the
street and that's all they would look at, like it wasn't shit. So I survived
them fifteen years taking care of myself on the streets during that time.
I kept my sanity together because I was playing music all the time.
FJ: Music was your salvation.
SONNY SIMMONS: Yeah, it was. Had I been doing anything other than that,
I think I would have went under a long time ago.
FJ: Lesser men would have laid down under such anguish.
SONNY SIMMONS: That's right. It was because the love for the music, just
plain and simply, the love of the music. I just love the music and I love
playing my instruments and performing. That's what it was. That's the
bottom and top line, the love for the music. The talent that God gave
me, I've always honored and respected until this very hour that we're
speaking about it with love. Hardship was both astronomical and traumatic,
but just because of the love, I kept coming back. I wouldn't throw in
the towel because of the love and all the cats that I knew, that I came
up with, that helped me and inspired me along the way like those giant
like Coltrane and Dolphy and Mingus and Monk. I also had an association
with Monk. I've got some real, true life dramas to tell you about musicians
that I hung out with. All those brothers died for this art form, the fine
art of jazz on the battlefield in this polluted system with corrupt and
fucked up and racist and fucked up. The whole trip, the machine destroys
people, Fred. They died for that and so I still got to stand up.
FJ: You have been fighting the good fight, honoring musicians who have
sacrificed their mortality for the music's advancement, how do you feel
icons like Coltrane, Ayler, Mingus, and Dolphy would feel about the music
SONNY SIMMONS: I think they would be very pissed off about it because
I'm pissed off about it because of how corrupt it became and the machinists
don't feed it, but only to certain masses and they screen the other shit
and hold it back. They keep it on the commercial beat and the commercial
tone, where it can get to the average Joe and that's not what's happening,
Fred. The music should be exposed to kids. The whole conglomerate of what
the system is, in America and in the art form and in the fine art of jazz,
should be exposed to kids and all the way up. It should be on the radios,
but it isn't. It is on certain radio stations and then they only pump
certain stuff. They don't pump the real thing all the time. They dabble
FJ: Your homecoming took the music by storm as you released two classics,
Ancient Ritual and American Jungle, for Quincy Jones' label, Qwest. Why
did you not sign an extension with the label?
SONNY SIMMONS: Well, they wanted to pick up the option on me, but they
wanted me to come back with an agreement for the option for less money,
so I refused to do it. The first CD made a big headway for me in the world,
not just in the US, in whole entire world. So I wanted more money for
the next recording, to pick up the option to continue to work with Qwest/Warner
Bros. After the guys come back at me like that with less money. I mean,
the money was so much less that I might as well have gone on the streets
and played for nickels and dimes to make that kind of money. They wanted
me to resign with them for three thousand dollars, Fred. Three thousand
dollars, man, are you kidding? That's what they said. That ain't nothing,
Fred. That wouldn't even make a recording. So I told them motherfuckers,
"You all can have that shit. Give it to somebody else that is desperate
and starving and younger and they might be able to deal with that, but
I can't deal with that shit." So I just told them that and they didn't
get in contact with me and I didn't care.
FJ: Fuck 'em.
SONNY SIMMONS: That's exactly the way I feel about it.
FJ: You also recorded two blowing sessions for the CIMP label, Transcendence
and Judgment Day.
SONNY SIMMONS: The recordings, the music was fine, but the recording is
zilch. The guy don't know how to record, Fred. I done put this on an expensive
machine because I like to hear my stuff surround, stereo, Dolby, all the
way around the room and you put this on and you have to turn the volume
all the way up and you just can barely hear it. So I was very disturbed
behind that because I didn't know the recording was that bad. On the first
one, it was OK, but on the second one, Judgment Day, which was very important
to my career and to me as a person, the musician, to present the tenor
saxophone in the context that Albert and Coltrane left here and the cat
done a terrible recording job on it. So I don't have too much respect
for CIMP recording technicians. He's (Bob Rusch) been trying to get me,
but I always refuse. I can't deal with that anymore. I have to be exclusive
with some refined people who really understand the fine art of jazz music
and who will recognize the fact that here is a brother who is still alive,
in this day and age, who walked with the giants, slept with them and ate
with them, played music and recorded with them. So they don't even want
to acknowledge that, so I don't really give a damn. I'm going on back
to Europe and start me a string quartet with cor anglais. I'm going to
change my whole musical idea. I'm not going to even play jazz anymore.
FJ: Why turn your back on jazz?
SONNY SIMMONS: I'm tired of the lifestyle that goes with it and the way,
Fred, I am sixty-seven years old and I ain't got shit except blacklisted
and still talked about and disrespected and refuse to give me jobs like
you're supposed to and recorded. I can't even get a recording date.
FJ: Do people fear Sonny Simmons?
SONNY SIMMONS: Yeah, I think so.
FJ: Why are they afraid?
SONNY SIMMONS: A whole lot of different psychological things of their
own. It is like some Sigmund Freud psychodrama with the people outside
of me because I don't have no problem, Fred, if I am dealing with a refined
person of high perception and sensitivity and hip to the arts and to human
nature, we can communicate fine, but I guess whatever their psychological
problem is with themselves, they see that through their eyes and put that
on other people as well.
FJ: There is too much fucking drama in this music.
SONNY SIMMONS: There sure is, Fred. It is getting psycho sick. I ain't
even trippin' on it. I just want to find me a place to hideaway in Europe
and I'll never be heard of again. They think they heard of that fifteen
years in San Francisco drama. They won't hear from me no more. I can't
find nobody to work with me.
FJ: Whoa. Let's not get crazy now. You keep fighting the good fight baby.
If your voice went silent once more, we would all be the lesser for it.
SONNY SIMMONS: I hear you, Fred. I am going back to Europe to stay. I
don't plan to come back, but if I do come back, it would have to be for
a lot of money and something exclusive. Otherwise, I'm going to stay in
FJ: I had better start fundraising like a motherfucker.
SONNY SIMMONS: I hear you, Fred.
Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and the best player in the WNBA.