Excerpts from an in-studio interview with Sonny and Linda Sharrock
Host: Rich Scheinin — at WKCR-FM, 89.9, Studio "A"
Sonny Sharrock: …We were living on East 3rd Street doing very bad [laughs], and we didn't have a phone, our phone had been lifted, and we were just waiting, you know for whatever.
Rich Scheinin: And the phone call came?
Sonny Sharrock: And a telegram came and said, "Call me. Herbie Mann." You know, and I said, "Wow, this is really strange; you know, it must be a joke." But none of my friends had enough bread to send a telegram, especially a joke telegram. So I called…
Linda Sharrock: You had done something with Byard.
Sonny Sharrock: …Yeah, Byard: he was one of the first cats I worked with in New York, and [Herbie Mann] heard me or whatever, and I went with the band, you know.
Rich Scheinin: Right. Well, when I think of Sonny Sharrock and I think of your guitar playing, I tend to associate it more with the Pharoah Sanders or the Don Cherry kind of thing.
Sonny Sharrock: Right, with the "new music", yeah.
Rich Scheinin: Right, and actually, maybe I'm just looking at it from the wrong perspective, 'cause probably your playing with Herbie Mann introduced you to more people, possibly, than these other records. Do you think that would be?
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah. Well, what happened was that being with that band, and Herbie has a pretty big jazz following, I was able to work things that other cats in the new music never did, you know , like really very strange, like Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas…
Linda Sharrock: Not that that was necessarily good.
Sonny Sharrock: No, I didn't get to solo or anything. But there I was, and I worked a lot of places with Herbie on big festivals, you know. … And it was really strange to be the only cat that plays the "new music" and to be in those kind of situations, you know; like, to play the "new music" and to go on before Ray Charles and after Roberta Flack is kind of strange, I think. …Well, Herbie never put musical restrictions on me: That's one thing I can say. He never said "Play this way" or "Play that way." What usually happened was I would get one solo a night where he felt it fit the rest of the music, you know, because it was outside of what they were doing, so it would usually be on the big crowd-grabber of the night I would come out and do my thing, you know [laughs]. And then when Linda was in the band, she would come out and we'd do two of my tunes, you know.
Rich Scheinin: …It's very hard to come by a record company that is going to deal with you just honorably… Could you go into some of those problems that musicians have?
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, well…there's not a main problem; there's about six main problems. They refuse to let you play music that you think of, or you know, it's like if you write music and you play it, they want to have a hand in, they want to have control over the music that you play, they put a producer into the studio, and he sits back behind the glass thing and he tells you, you know. His main function is to listen for noises, listen for clicks, and to listen for buzzes on the amplifiers and things like that. You know, in this case, if you have a singer, using the old word, "pop" singer like Tony Bennett or something, who knows absolutely nothing about music, man, he doesn't compose the music he sings, he goes into the studio and they set it up in front of him, and they tell him what to sing, you know -- then you need a producer to pick the songs and do all that. But I think we're all supposed to be artists in jazz, it's supposed to be an art, music, so if you're an artist you're supposed to pick the music that you're gonna play, you're supposed to compose it, number one, and then you choose what compositions of your own you will play and how you'll play them, you know . That's the right supposed to be granted to an artist, that he does the art…but producers don't want to do that, you know.
Rich Scheinin: A lot of musicians right now are doing it themselves…have you given that any thought?
Sonny Sharrock: Not one thought, no. I can't.
Rich Scheinin: Don't want to get into the business aspect of it?
Sonny Sharrock: I love the business, I love the business end of music, but I don't like wasted motion, you know. I don't see how we could produce an album and put it out ourselves and reap the things I think we should get, you know. I don't see any way. I know too much about the business, knowing about distribution and promotion and things like that, not to know that there's no way in the world I could promote an album, you know. There's absolutely no way, knowing the money that goes into promotion and what you have to do to sell ten thousand copies of an album, you know, the amount of money and time. I can't do that.
Linda Sharrock: …The whole problem is if you're a musician you're supposed to devote your time and energy to creating music, not to carrying records up and down, you know. That's what the problem is with getting into the studio and playing the kind of music you want. If you have somebody to go and speak to whoever it is who has to be spoken to about your concept and how you want to play your music and these kinds of things, to go in and talk for you, they get it all straightened out and then you just go in and play.
Rich Scheinin: Right. Well, on these two albums--- I'll say the albums for you - the two albums that Sonny and Linda have done are Monkey-pockie-boo, which is on BYG, French label, and also Black Woman, which is on Vortex. …On these albums, you pretty much did or you did do your own material.
Sonny Sharrock: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we did. There's one tune on the Black Woman album, "Bialero," which is a French folk song that we heard, and we liked it, and it's a traditional tune, so no one know s who wrote it. And we did it because we liked the sound of it. But that's the only tune we've ever recorded that we didn't write.
Rich Scheinin: That brings up something, that it's a French folk tune. I don't know, you tell me if I'm on target or not, but when I listen to your music …I think I hear sometimes flamenco and all kinds of things in your guitar playing. Is that true at all?
Sonny Sharock: Well, I know that what I've been coming around to in my head about my music the last couple of years is that what I'm doing and maybe what the band is doing is some kind of futuristic electronic folk music. And I never developed the standard techniques for the guitar, and I don't think Linda did for the voice. We never cared about, you know, developing the standard classical European Western techniques or whatever, and I developed my own techniques, Linda developed her own techniques, and I think that's what folk music is about, you know. And jazz: I have a strong feeling that jazz is a folk music, not to put John Lewis down, you know, with his chording of the concert hall, that classical thing, but you know, I feel it's a folk music.
Rich Scheinin: Yeah, sure, I remember Louis Armstrong once was asked something, what he thought about the folk revival, in the early '6Os with Joan Baez and everybody, and they said, "What do you think of the folk revival?" and Louis Armstrong said, "I've been playing folk music all my life," you know.
Sonny Sharrock: Right, dig it, yeah. It is, you know. I don't think it was ever meant to be played technically; I think it's all about feeling, like all folk music is. It's not technique in folk music; it's the feeling that you get across, you know. It's a time to put across feelings, you know.
Rich Scheinin: …[You] learned a great deal from Don Cherry.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah. Not speaking about his music, because, you know, as a musician and composer Don's incredible, we won't even deal with that, but just as to the way he presents his music, he believes in a presentation of the music, you know. And I think that's what a lot of people have forgotten, that this is an art form, and that when you play a composition you're presenting it; you know, you're not just going up, the old concept of going to Birdland and playing another set, you know; it's two o'clock and you've got two more sets to play. That's not it any more. You're in a concert and you're going to present a composition. And I'm thinking beyond the visual thing, because Don's got a great visual thing when he plays, he's got a lot of theatre happening, and that's great too, and I believe in that too, but the composition itself is - I don't know how to say… The song itself isn't just a head and then go into the solos, there's something about the music that makes it - I don't even know how to say it, man, but we've been getting into that lately. … I mean, like when you go to hear classical music and, you know, they're going to present a piece of music to you, now, there's not very much visually going on in seeing a man standing up waving a little skinny stick in front of a hundred and ten musicians. You know, there's not too much happening. …We have a much more theatrical thing, 'cause we 're able to walk around the stage, you know, and go out into the audience and do whatever.
Rich Scheinin: You know who else is very big on the visual aspect as well as the music? The Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, I saw some photos of them running around the stage [laughs] in France in their underwear, and you know, it was funny [laughs]. I don't mean going quite that far, you know.
Rich Scheinin: But I also mean just in terms of musicians, they have a tremendous number of percussion instruments all over the place and everything.
Sonny Sharrock: But just the visual thing, right, yeah. I'm gonna go off, I think, I go off on music and musicians, and Linda's trying to stop me: If only musically it was happening as much as the visual thing with that group, you know, it would be pretty hip. Now the phones are gonna start ringin'. But anyway, the thing, like, when you go to see some classical music and you go to a performance of a symphony orchestra, there's nothing visual happening, but the music itself is written in such a way that it's very dramatic, you know. You understand what I mean? It's more than just a song played down, play the head once and then go on to solos - saxophone solo, piano solo, bass solo, drum solo, out, you know. It's more than that. There's something happening in the music that is hard to explain, you know. Come see our band and see how it works.
Rich Scheinin: Did you play with Don Cherry for a long time, or were you just on this session, or what?
Sonny Sharrock: No, I've only played with Don twice: on this record date, and the night before this record date we did a concert at the Berlin Jazz Festival, you know. Pharoah was on it too; Pharoah and myself were guests with Don's orchestra.
Rich Scheinin: …What do you say we just talk about what you're doing on your own now? …'Cause you've mentioned that you do have your own band together now.
Sonny Sharrock: We do have our own band, and here goes the big plug for our band.
Linda Sharrock: …It's Abe Speller.
Sonny Sharrock: Abe Speller, drums.
Linda Sharrock: And he also plays steel drums.
Sonny Sharrock: …Jose Santos, Latin percussionist, and playing congas and timbales and percussion, and-
Linda Sharrock: We had Sonny's little brother with us the other day.
Sonny Sharrock: [Laughs] That was just something special that-
Linda Sharrock: Yeah, but it was nice. He was playing the bass.
Sonny Sharrock: My younger brother Dave Artis was playing bass. We did this soundtrack, I told you, for a movie by a Turkish producer…a documentary on James Baldwin called Another Place , I think is the working title… and we did the music for it, and it was really an experience, you know.
Linda Sharrock: And we're looking for, you know, a contract with a good company.
Rich Scheinin: …Well, how would you describe the music that your band is doing right now? 'Cause people who listen to your music are only familiar with you insofar as some of the recordings that they've heard you do, no?
Sonny Sharrock: Right. Well, what's happened to our music is, I think, very positive things. One, the most positive thing, I think, that's happened to the music is that Linda has taken a bigger role in the composition.
Richn Scheinin: Do you two compose together?
Sonny Sharrock: Well, only by accident, I think. We have one song that we did for this movie that we composed together, and it was purely accident, because we were walking down the street, and Linda was just singing a little melody, you know. And that's how we compose, I think, 'cause we don't write music down; we just sing the melodies and then rush home to the tape recorder and try to get them down. And I don't believe in writing music, but that's something we'll go into later, but something else altogether, and I built a melody on what she was singing, on what I thought she was singing, and then we combined the two. And that's the only song we've ever written, the two of us. Most of the time she writes her own music and I write mine.
Rich Scheinin: Yeah. Vocals play a big part in your music, don't they? 'Cause you do some singing yourself on a couple of your records.
Linda Sharrock: He tries [laughs].
Sonny Sharrock: I try to sing. Linda laughs at me when I sing, man. … I used to be a singer, you know? No, don't laugh -
Rich Scheinin: [Laughing] I'm not laughing.
Sonny Sharrock: --'cause that's a big part of my life. Now we're gonna go off into something else, but I grew up listening to the heavy rhythm and blues of the '4Os and '5Os, and we had a singing group, and I was in four or five singing groups back then. And you know, I wanted to be a singer, like with the Moonglows, the Flamingos, something like that. So I sing, and Linda laughs at me when I sing, you know. So I took a chance on a couple of our records and sang [laughs].
Rich Scheinin: It came out pretty good, I think.
Sonny Sharrock: But you know, I don't know if I'm gonna do that again. You know, it's kind-a hard, man, when somebody who can really sing is looking at you and laughing, you know. But we'll go on with the new band. So those are the members of the band. And we had that ringer, my little brother joined us, Dave Artis, he's listening, I bet, he joined us on that soundtrack, and you know, he did beautifully.
Linda Sharrock: …Well, one of the reasons he did so well is because, you know, the way he approached the music, he was so happy about it, and he had really an open mind about it. … It's important that the new band members we have, you know, have a very good idea of music and -
Sonny Sharrock: They're all young cats, the two drummers are young cats, and they haven't had any major exposure, and they play beautifully, man, and they want to play, and that's important.
Linda Sharrock: And they have a very positive attitude about playing, and they're not trying to play hipper than this person, and you know, by playing this particular lick put down this drummer, that idea of that kind of playing.
Sonny Sharrock: And you take all of Tony Williams' things and do 'em and try and down him. …They're not into that, you know. Playing some pretty original music, you know. But that's another demand we make on band members, that everybody has to be original, because we didn't copy anyone.
Rich Scheinin: And that's for sure. … When you think of jazz guitar prior to you, pre-Sonny Sharrock jazz guitar or so-called jazz guitar, I mean, you think of Charlie Christian or Kenny Burrell or I don't know who, Barney Kessel or somebody. And then, I mean, where do you derive your sound from? Or I mean, I realize a lot of it is very, very original, but -
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, well, see, what happened with me was I couldn't develop the chops, man, to steal from cats. See, that's an old jazz thing, I've said this before, that the way they teach you jazz is that the first thing you do is get a subscription to "down beat" -
Rich Scheinin: -- And then you take the solos off the records.
Sonny Sharrock: -- you know, you listen to cats' records and you take off their licks until you learn how to play. Now, I was living in upstate New York, and there were no jazz musicians around in the area to learn from, you know. And I just started learning how to play, and I found that I couldn't do that, I couldn't play at that speed, I didn't have the facility, and I didn't have the ear to hear what other people were doing and transfer it to my instrument, to my hands, you know. So I just had to develop a completely different kind of thing. And so I didn't like jazz guitar; see, I didn't like the sound of it. I like saxophone players and drummers, you know, like I heard Ornette and Coltrane, and that took me so far out, man, that I couldn't listen to jazz guitar, it was so far behind. They were playing refined Charlie Christian. Charlie Christian: When he played it, it was very rough and had very sharp edges on it, but you know, after 3O years it mellows.
Rich Scheinin: …Did the newer horn players have a bigger influence, say, on your guitar playing?
Sonny Sharrock: …Now, let me clarify "influences". I don't mean the standard influence of listen to the cat, copy his songs and his licks, and play that until you learn how to play. No, I mean influence: I mean putting on a record, listening to it, and it makes you feel good, and then two days later, you know, you play, but you don't play anything that he played. It's just a spiritual influence, completely, it's nothing to do with music at all, and I would say that my influences are Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman, you know. And I think Linda - Well, she can speak for herself about how she came about.
Rich Scheinin: Yeah, why don't you talk to us about your singing, or you know, in terms of who you listen to or --?
Linda Sharrock: Who I listen to? Well, you would be surprised.
Rich Scheinin: Or how you've come to sing how you sing.
Linda Sharrock: Well, the way I came to sing: You know, I can't really explain it, I used to just listen to certain records, like when I was in Philadelphia I used to listen to Sunny Murray, Archie Shepp, and Bill Dixon, and I could just hear a voice in certain parts of the music, you know. So sometimes I would just kind of listen to records and I would hear this music in my mind, you know. And then when I decided to try and do it, it just came out one way, and that's it. But I listened to people like the Miracles, and you know, I mean, I've never listened to any kind of a female jazz singer for any kind of inspiration or anything like that. And I was influenced by horn players, influenced by Albert, and I think Pharoah was a strong influence, 'cause I heard him in Philadelphia, and then when I came to New York I would hear them, you know, and I think he was a big influence on me. So it was horns, you know.
Sonny Sharrock: …The thing that killed me about her singing was that she was, if not the first, one of the few jazz singers who improvise, and I mean, because improvisation is jazz, it's about improvisation, and to bend a few notes or to take liberties with the words. That's one of the reasons she doesn't use words: because it hinders your improvisation, you know.
Rich Scheinin: It's the same thing, a lot of times, with Jeanne Lee.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, see, but you know, that's why I say "if not the first, one of the few to improvise" with the voice, you know. It's really weird: Like, when I first heard her sing, it was very strange to hear somebody just sing, you know, "There's no words, and I'm just gonna sing like a horn." It's a pretty strange concept, you know. … You know, I don't know about "first," I don't think that "first" is important, I think that it's the first time for you and that you've never experienced the thing, I mean, that's what originality is about, because the first sound made was all the music that's ever gonna be played, that's it, that sound, the first sound made had all the notes that there are, so there's nothing about being the first. But being original has to do with it never having been done this way, and it's a hard thing. But that's what we demand in our band. And I think in the bands we've had, we've had some pretty heavy originals, man, like Milford Graves, who was playing with us for a while, you know, and that's one of the original drummers in all time. …Milford played with us for about a year, I guess, but you know, the thing was that Milford's a bandleader in his own right, he's a composer and a bandleader in his own right, and it doesn't work out for any length of time when you have, like we had -
Rich Scheinin: -- two bandleaders in the same band.
Sonny Sharrock: -- Yeah, in that case we had three bandleaders, and it just won't work, you know, 'cause he had so much of his own music to do that he really couldn't be bothered with our music. His music was just as important, you know. And he's an incredible drummer. And we had Sirone, Norris Jones was with us for a while, and we had some really incredible musicians. Ted Daniel was with us for a while.
Rich Scheinin: Right, he's on that album, Black Woman.
Sonny Sharrock: Right, and Dave Burrell.
Linda Sharrock: But it's really difficult, because then while they're playing with you they're playing, but they're not playing, you know, everything they want to play.
Sonny Sharrock: …It wasn't that we were hipper or better than they were, but that we had the record date.
Linda Sharrock: We just happened to have the gig at that time. …I think one thing that would make things a lot easier is if you're getting paid a certain amount of money and everyone feels happy with the money, feels good about the place they're playing in, you know, about the audience. You know, that has a lot to do with it too.
Sonny Sharrock: Right. … We've extended our music, 'cause you were saying that people would want to know what we're doing now, and we've gotten some electronic instruments, not many, and we hope to get more, because there's a place for it, you know.
Rich Scheinin: …A lot of people are very antagonistic - is that the word? - about electronics. Larry Young was up here, and he made a really interesting point, 'cause he was saying people get just very nervous about electronics, but they really shouldn't, 'cause he says it's as natural as anything else: You know, lightening is electricity and stuff.
Sonny Sharrock: [Laughs] Yeah, that's a good point. You know, I don't know how "natural" it is, but it's here [laughs], and there's nothing that anybody can do about it. If cats want to play it, that's where it's at, you know. And I'm using the Echoplex and trying some things out on it. I recently got a pedal-steel guitar that I'm working on, gonna try and incorporate that into our sound.
Rich Scheinin: A pedal-steel guitar?
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah. Workin' hard on it, trying, 'cause it's a different thing altogether than guitar, you know. And we're trying to get a sound, man. We want the band to sound a particular way. We want it to be a distinctive sound. It's very important.
Rich Scheinin: Do you know what the sound is?
Sonny Sharrock: I have a vague idea, way, way up in the top of my head.
Linda Sharrock: I think the steel drums are gonna play an important part. That's something I've been wanting for a long time.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, the steel drums will also play a very important part. Linda's wanted that for two years, to have steel drums in the band. And timbale she wants. We just happen to have a timbale player who's gonna be playing steel drum, so that and the pedal guitar and the electronic devices. And there's a sound like I have in the top of my head.
Rich Scheinin: …Yeah. Are you approaching it? Do you think you're getting it?
Sonny Sharrock: We haven't had the chance to work enough on it, you know. I haven't played the pedal steel on a gig yet. We've used the Echoplex on our three gigs in the last year.
Linda Sharrock: …You know, you have to work in front of an audience.
Sonny Sharrock: See, we don't rehearse. We rehearsed for this film music, and the music is very tight and very together. But we had one rehearsal for it. We don't like to rehearse; I don't believe in rehearsing the band to death; I believe that one rehearsal is adequate to play the music. You know, it's an improvised music.
Sonny Sharrock: …I picked that last song that just played, "Lonnie's Lament" by Coltrane. I always lean towards the more lyrical, you know, the prettier a song is the more I like it, and that was from that period, from the 1963-64 period, Coltrane working at Birdland with the quartet and stuff. That was one of the pretty songs that they played. And this next song is an offshoot of that group: It's from the Illumination album, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison sextet with McCoy and Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons…and Charles Davis. But this song, "Not Now, Jones": I picked this song not for its great melodic thing, but Prince Lasha has a way of writing songs, man. He's really got a very funny thing; it's kind of like the Ornette thing, you know, that lilting - well, the Ornette when he came to New York, that kind of music, you know. It kind of bounces, you know. And then there's an especially fine solo on English horn that Sonny Simmons does on this, and Elvin's playing is incredible. …When I listen to jazz with time as opposed to the music we play without time, Elvin Jones is the time drummer for me. … The way he plays, that circular time that he plays is really incredible, you know. I think this is why the new music doesn't use time any more: because I think this was the end of time, after you reach this point there's not anything else you can do with time, so we had to go into other areas. We had to develop new things, you know.
Rich Scheinin: …And right now, Linda Sharrock has picked out something else, and she's gonna tell us why.
Linda Sharrock: It's "Spiritual Unity" by the Albert Ayler trio, and it's one of my favorite, one of my favorite songs. It's music for the spirit more than it is for the mind, and I've always admired Albert's playing, you know. I think he reaches new spiritual heights that very few people have ever reached, and I think he was a very sincere musician. And I appreciate the fact that he existed and that he was able to bring this music to us. It's gonna be "Ghosts," the first variation It's Albert Ayler, saxophone, Gary Peacock, bass, and Sunny Murray, percussion.
Rich Scheinin: …And Linda had mentioned that Sunny Murray was on there, and she doesn't think Sunny Murray's sound really is ever captured properly on record.
Linda Sharrock: No, no. You know, the way he's been recorded and the way he actually plays are so different that you cannot believe it, you know. Also, it's important to see him in person, because he has such a dynamic approach to drums, and just to see him is also an experience, you know.
Rich Scheinin: …And we have another selection now that Sonny Sharrock is gonna tell us about.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, the tune is called "Call Me By My Rightful Name" by Archie Shepp. It's from the John Coltrane/Archie Shepp New Thing at Newport album. I have a couple of comments to make about the album. The musicians are Bobby Hutcherson, vibes, Barre Phillips, bass, and Joe Chambers, drums. The music - I'll talk about the music first - the music is Archie's, and he loves Duke Ellington -- like any sane musician should [laughs] and I've found Archie to write pieces that had a lot to do with Ellington, and this is one of them, a very lyrical thing. And the thing I want to say about the musicians, the other musicians, and I can say it since I'm not a disc jockey and so I don't have to be "objective": They're not in sympathy with the music. You know, I know of these men by their music, and they're all what I call the post-bebop players, you know, they play good time and good chord changes, but they know absolutely nothing about playing free, and it shows, you know. That's always been a thing, when you hire musicians outside of the music that you do: No matter how good they are, it always sticks out that they're not correct for the music…
Rich Scheinin: …And Sonny, you were saying a lot of interesting things off-mike that I'm sure a lot of people at home would like to hear, like usually I'm making the comments in here or some other people who really don't know anything about music, and I'm sure people would just be interested in getting the musician's insights into these things. You know, like, what are some of your feelings about Archie Shepp that you were talking about?
Sonny Sharrock: …Well, he studies drama in school, I know, and it shows in his music. He's got a way of playing that he almost talks on the horn, you know. Like I was saying, he's a very lyrical player. … Albert has, like Linda says, this high level of spirituality, and it's something that's just wordless, and you know it, you can understand the full meaning of it, but you can never break it into sections.
Rich Scheinin: Also, isn't Ayler's music sort of the same kind of concept you were talking about before about Don Cherry? He doesn't just play a head and then go into the solos and then back to the head and that sort of thing? Even though they're all melodies.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, well, that's because he was one of the masters, you know. There are masters, like in anything, there are masters, and Archie is a master in his own right. But Archie's is broken up into different parts, like his solo, you can actually hear him saying things to you, or I can, you know, he talks on his horn, his horn has a very vocal sound to it, and there's something that sounds like speech, I mean, without words, again, because we don't use words in the new music, you know. Oh, he's a poet also, so he writes poetry.
Rich Scheinin: Right, and Archie also uses vocalists a lot of times.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, he has used vocalists, but I mean in an improvisational sense, you know, he talks to you without words, but he uses sentence structure in the whole thing, and it's a very strange way of playing. And another thing I said about him was that he is to me, along with Bill Dixon, the arranger of the new music, which is really a strange concept, a music that takes place so much inside as opposed to outside on paper, to have arrangers. But Archie is an incredible arranger, and Bill Dixon, you know. They're like the Fletcher Hendersons of their time. You know what I mean? It's really incredible, you know.
Rich Scheinin: Well, could you, like, specify sort of the difference in arranging for un-new music and, you know, new music? What does it entail?
Sonny Sharrock: I don't know how much difference there is. I know that if you follow the masters, if you take Duke Ellington and you listen to what he does in an arrangement and the way he does an arrangement, and then you listen to Archie or Bill Dixon and you see what they do, I don't think there's that much difference artistically, but it's just in the way that it's done, the techniques applied, you know. Whereas Duke would be writing in time, using chord changes and time, and in tonalities, the European tonalities, Western tonalities, to write an arrangement, Archie or Bill would not use time -- well, they did use time to some extent, but not use chord changes or proper tonalities to get their arrangement across. …They're arrangers, and it's a very strange thing to be [ laughs] in the new music.
Rich Scheinin: …This is sort of, well, in the same general area, but it's just something that came into mind: It's just on the back of some Cecil Taylor album, and there's mention of how Cecil Taylor taught, he had a drum part arranged in his mind, and he taught the drum part to the drummer, who was Denis Charles, I think, and who didn't know how to read music at that point, and he taught it to him. Now, do you ever do that sort of thing with drums, or do you know of any people who do that kind of thing with drums?
Sonny Sharrock: …[Laughs] Cecil Taylor is another one of the masters, and that's how his mind works. I don't do that kind of thing. I have a general idea of the sound I want, but I don't have an arrangement laid out in my head like that, you know, not putting it down or praising it. That's just Cecil's way. I don't do it like that. You don't do that, do you, honey?
Linda Sharrock: Mm-mm.
Sonny Sharrock: You know, have a whole thing laid out like that. I think it's beautiful if it can be done, you know, if a cat can do it like Cecil, you know.
Rich Scheinin: …Okay, so Linda, you want to talk about "Naima," right?
Linda Sharrock: Yeah. It's from the Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard Again album, and when this album first came out, well, for a few years - well, I'm sure for always, but for the few years, the first few years that I was in New York, everyone used to sit around waiting for John's new albums to come out, you know. Like, leaks would come out of what he had done in the studio, and whoever wasn't on the date, you know, would just be anxiously waiting to hear his new album and to see what new steps-
Sonny Sharrock: -- what everybody should do next [laughs].
Linda Sharrock: -- the new direction he had taken. And I remember we were all sitting around waiting for this album to come out, and when it did come out, someone, I don't remember who it was, brought it to our house, and we all sat down and listened to it. And it was just, you know, very happy and a very good feeling to hear it. To me it's an oldie-but-goodie, because my listening really didn't go back much further than this, you know. So it's a very important album to me. "Naima" to me is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, and he must have felt very strongly about it to record it for the second time and to be able to add so much more to it, you know. It must have really meant a lot to him. I think we should just listen to it.
Rich Scheinin: Okay… Sonny, while that was going on, you were saying that that sort of marked a change in John Coltrane's playing, or as opposed to what was on Crescent that we heard before.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, I don't know that this album marked the change, I don't think it was this album, but the difference in his sound, you know, is really incredible. And you know, all praises to Trane, but that he had learned so much from Pharoah and Albert and Archie and Ornette is really incredible.
Linda Sharrock: Well that's what made John Coltrane -
Sonny Sharrock: -- that's what made him John Coltrane -
Linda Sharrock: --John Coltrane, you know.
Sonny Sharrock: --to be able to learn. As great as he was, he could still learn, you know.
Linda Sharrock: Yeah, and you know, I just wanted to say that when Pharoah begins his solo on that song, it's really, really beautiful, and it really shows, like, how great a horn player he is, you know, that he can sound that good even after John just did such. You know, it's just a beautiful album, and I really love it, both of their playing on there. And we were saying before, that Archie talks to you in playing, and I was thinking that John and Pharoah speak to you.
Sonny Sharrock: Oh, yeah [laughs].
Linda Sharrock: You know, it's just -
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, I know. I know.
Rich Scheinin: …Maybe you want to talk a bit about Pharoah and his music.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, well, Linda worked with Pharoah a couple of times too. She's worked with him for a time.
Linda Sharrock: Yeah, I think I worked with him before I ever worked with you; I think he's the first person I ever worked with, right? You know, actually, to do a job.
Sonny Sharrock: To do a gig, yeah. We were married, as I recall; that was the first gig you had with Pharoah, yeah. Yeah, Pharoah's been a force, a force on every musician in New York, whether they like it or not he's been a force, and when you're a force on Coltrane, I suppose you're gonna be a force on everyone else.
Rich Scheinin: I never really heard anybody say that before, that Coltrane was influenced by a lot of the younger musicians also.
Sonny Sharrock: Oh, wow, I remember the great old days [laughs] when we had a place down on St. Marks Place, I think it's now the Movie Musical, that place, that they show old movies from the '3Os and '4Os, musicals and things, but at one time they opened it up as the Jazz Gallery, the cats who owned the jazz Spot opened it up, and Sonny Rollins opened the club. It was the big comeback after he'd been on the bridge, and he came back playing the same thing, really it's just the way it is, but you know, that's Sonny. But anyway, it's nothing to do with new music for real, but [laughs] we're just goin' on and on, right? Anyway, one night down there - now, I wasn't there, but I heard this, this was a big rumor at the time - there was a session at this place after it had closed, it became a ski lodge and then it became something else, and it closed, and they said -- now this was the rumor that was going around - that someone had a key, and they opened it up. Now, I know this sounds very strange, but at the time a lot of strange things were happening, you know, there was a lot of playing in lofts and things… but there were some really strange things going on with some really heavy musicians at this time. There was that place over the Vanguard-
Rich Scheinin: Over the Vanguard?
Sonny Sharrock: Over the vanguard, when Ornette made his comeback at the Vanguard with the velvet suit and the whole thing and the violin, when he was playing violin and trumpet in the trio with Dave Izenzon and stuff, there was a club upstairs over the Vanguard, and the very night Ornette opened up at the Vanguard, now, here was, you know, one of the fathers of the new music making his return to music, and upstairs there was a band with Archie Shepp, Marion Brown and some other cats, and the second band was Albert Ayler with Milford Graves and some other cats. [Laughs]. It was really incredible. And I went to both places. I ran up and down stairs all night long, you know. But there was a dance studio or something up there. … Well, anyway, this place down in St. Marks Place: They said that there was a band down there that was Sunny Murray, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, it was that New York Five, I think, was the name of it-
Rich Scheinin: Contemporary Five?
Sonny Sharrock: The Contemporary Five. And they said that they played all night long, and Trane was standing in the corner watching them. And I know that when I was playing with Pharoah, John used to come around -
Linda Sharrock: Oh, remember that, Sonny?
Sonny Sharrock: --and stand around and scare me to death, you know. But he was able to learn from the younger cats who had a new knowledge, because younger cats do have a new knowledge, like we have a new knowledge, and other people can learn from that, and the cats that are gonna come after us are gonna have a new knowledge. And I hope that we're gonna be able to learn from them.
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