February 19, 2018


Jazz Icon Sonny Rollins on the Difference Between Knowing and Believing: RealClearLife caught up with the world's greatest improviser. (Justin Joffe, 2/18/18, RealClearLife)

To commemorate Rollins' seminal 1957 album, Way Out West, which receives a deluxe vinyl reissue this week, RealClearLife caught up with the world's greatest improviser over the phone.  Without ever dipping into sentiment or maudlin remembrance, he offered his thoughts on the power that spiritual thinking, and how when you've been around long enough you don't just believe anymore--you know. [...]

We just covered an exhibit at the Rubin Museum about the second Buddha, Padmasambhava, whose disciples projected his treasure teachings into the future. They would hide his messages in art about him, scrolls and whatnot. So years after he wasn't around anymore, people would be discovering his teachings.

I've been interested in these thoughts early on. I remember getting involved with the Rosicrucians, which is not Eastern, though they claim to be from way back. They're a European mystical organization. That was my first attempt to understand and read some of this stuff. Then I went into Buddhism. But mainly, I study yoga, and consider myself a yogi. I'm in sympathy and empathy with a lot of Buddhist philosophy and thought, but I was never... because it's really the same thing.

What I discovered it this, Joffe--that there's only one truth. That's all. And that goes to all human endeavors on this planet. There's a lot of different sects, but the truth is the same. One of my favorite things I believe in is the Golden Rule, and recently somebody sent me something that goes like this--what you do not wish upon yourself, do not do to others. You know who said that? Confucius. It goes back forever. As long as human beings been out here, some people have seen the light, and that's the truth. It's one resolve down to one truth. So that's where I'm at.

But I'm still studying, I'm still learning. I'm reading Swami Vivekananda now, who was a very wise man that was here in the States around the end of the 19th Century. You know, I'm on the wrong side of 87, and right now I'd rather give.

In giving, be it your time to me or your archives to the Schomburg, you don't ever seem to be sentimental about your career. When recently asked about your playing alone on The Williamsburg Bridge, you resisted the bait to get sentimental. That was learning who you were for me as a kid because I watched The Simpsons and Bleeding Gums Murphy played on the Springfield Bridge, a story I soon found out was plucked directly out of your mythology. Few people have been able to assert themselves into our subconscious so directly, and that's a gift, too.  How do you do so without being overly sentimental about old memories and stories?

Life goes by so fast, and there's so much to learn. As a musician, that takes most of your life, when you're trying to learn to be a performer. It takes up a lot of your life. You really don't have a lot of time to meditate and contemplate, things just happen. At this stage in my life, I don't have to think too much about any of that stuff. But I did have to live more of a sentimental life when I had to think about making a new record, getting a magazine cover and stuff. That's fine. This was my karmic journey, this was me. I was born Sonny Rollins to go through my karma and live the life that I've lived. I understand that now, and I accept everything, because I believe in karma, and I'm sure you do, too.

Well, you believe in reincarnation, too.

Oh, definitely.

Have you thought about how you might exist in the air or the electrons of a next life?

No, I don't think too much about that, because that's not my business. If I'm gonna waste my time on Earth thinking about what I'm gonna come back as, a man or an animal, that's wasting my time on Earth. And it's short. Life is short. We don't have a lot of time out here. My time out here has to be The Golden Rule, I know what I'm supposed to do now. I have to be a kind person, I have to give more than take, and that's hard in this world.

By the way, I don't believe in reincarnation, I accept reincarnation. I don't believe, I know. That's a better way to put it. I often wish I'd said that when I've talked to people. Do you get my mind there?

Posted by at February 19, 2018 4:34 AM