WKCR-FM, 89.9, 1/15/9O, host Ben Ratliff
Ben Ratliff: …Sonny, I'm glad to have you here.
Sonny Sharrock: It's nice to be here again.
Ben Ratliff: We heard two tracks from the new record called "Sonny Sharrock Band: Live in New York," released on Enemy Records, the West German label. And we heard "My Song" and "The Past Adventures of Zydeco Honeycup," Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass, Pheeroan Aklaff, drums, Abe Speller, drums, and Dave Snider on keyboards. And that's actually a kind of a new incarnation of your band. You've added a couple of people recently.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, the quartet being the nucleus of the band, the two drummers, bass and guitar, and we added Dave Snider on keyboard about a year ago, and I'm glad of that [laughs]. And over the summer we've been using Ron Cartel on vocals on certain pieces.
Ben Ratliff: Are you aiming for a certain kind of definable sound with the two new members, or are you working towards a new conception of your music?
Sonny Sharrock: No, I don't think so. I don't like to think about my music, like, where I'm heading with the music. As I compose, I like to build for that, you know. I felt a need for a keyboard player in the music I was doing, I could hear the parts, but when I listened to the recordings and when I looked at the audience, I could see that they couldn't hear the parts when I just had the quartet… so that's why I added the keyboard. But it's just about just natural growth, I don't try to, you know, add anything to bring anything to the music, it's just something that I need to hear at a certain point, and I'll do that.
Ben Ratliff: With Ron Cartel, the new singer, when he comes on the bandstand and you go through three or four tunes, it turns into more of, like, an R&B sound, 'cause he's a real blues shouter.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, he's an old Jersey club singer, you know. That's what his forte is. Ron came on the band, we had a tour last fall, last September-October in Europe, and two of the gigs were dances, so they had asked if we had a vocalist. And I had known Ron for a while, so I asked him to come on the band, because I do have a very heavy connection with rhythm-and-blues, and I wanted to hear that at the time, you know. But, like, the band as it stands is a quintet now, I'll say, with the keyboard, but like Ron will be doing some gigs with us, some he won't, and it's just that kind of thing. It's as needed, depending on what the music is gonna be that particular night.
Ben Ratliff: … I know you were in a band called the Echoes in the late '5Os.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, wait, let me clarify that: a singing group. … It was the vocal groups that were the thing back in the '5Os, yeah, and the first group I was with was called the Echoes, yeah.
Ben Ratliff: And your uncle was in the band too?
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, my uncle sang lead. All the guys were older than I was: They were all from seventeen to twenty-two, and I was, like, thirteen years old, I think, when I joined them. And they taught me a lot. You know, I really learned —not "learned," I learned the rules of harmony when I went to Berklee, but I learned the feeling of harmony in the vocal groups, and it's still in my music today. I use very slight harmonies. Lots of times I've had trouble with keyboard players other than David because there wasn't much harmony for them, but it is a kind of vocal harmony that I'm very fond of playing on top of, and I guess that does stem from my experience with the vocal groups.
Ben Ratliff: You had a shot at recording with that group, too.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah… we recorded December 13th, it was a Friday, by the way, in 1957, I had been singing for like about four years at that point, but that was the first time I got the chance to do a real record, you know. It was quite a record. In those days they used to bring a group into the studio in the afternoon, and you'd record all day. We did backup for two other singers, for two solo singers, and we did their records. That was, you know, two three-minute songs each for them, many takes, and there was no multi-track recording at the time, you know, and we did their two and then we did ours, our two songs. So we were in the studio maybe about seven, eight hours that day.
Ben Ratliff: Is this the Alan Freed band with Big Al Sears?
Sonny Sharrock: No, this was a studio band, King Curtis on tenor, Panama Francis on drums, Kenny Burrell on guitar, and I don't know who the bass player or the keyboard player were. … It was never released. I saw an acetate of it, but we didn't have the money to pay the record company to release the record, which was the way things were done back then.
Ben Ratliff: Oh, no kidding!
Sonny Sharrock: That was the whole "payola" thing, it was right before it broke, you know, so we couldn't pay the promoter who would make sure the record got out and that kind of thing. One of the backups we did for the solo singers was released; I heard that on the radio on an Alan Freed show one night. But our record was never released. There's an acetate floating around someplace, I'm sure.
Ben Ratliff: I thought that maybe it just wasn't released because Alan Freed's operations had to shut down and everything as soon as that happened to him.
Sonny Sharrock: It was about a year or two later that they dropped Alan. But… we didn't have the money, so nothing happened.
Ben Ratliff: …This is your solo record, "Guitar," which was the first album you made after a long time of not puttin' out anything.
Sonny Sharrock: Think it was about twelve years between that and the "Paradise" album.
Ben Ratliff: Mm-hmm. Why did you want to do a solo record?
Sonny Sharrock: I didn't [laughs]. … We had just finished the first Last Exit tour, and Bill Laswell said to me, "Look, I wanna record you, but I don't have, you know, enough bread to bring in a group. Why don't you do a solo record?" And I said, "No, man, I really, you know, have no eyes to do that." They're boring, number one; most solo records I had heard, you know, put me to sleep. And he said, "Well, let's just try it, see what happens." So we went into the studio that afternoon and came out that night with a record. I think it worked quite well.
Ben Ratliff: This was made in one day?
Sonny Sharrock: One day, yeah. Well, "Seize the Rainbow" was done in one day too. We had a rehearsal the day before, formed a band in the rehearsal studio, rehearsed one day, and then went in and recorded in one day.
Ben Ratliff: On this though, there's a lot of multi-tracking, sounds like.
Sonny Sharrock: A lot of multi-track, yeah, because I couldn't stand just the sound of the empty guitar. See, I don't play chords, so I had to lay down a lot of lines behind myself instead of playing chords, you know.
Ben Ratliff: Yeah, sometimes it sounds like there's three or four guitarists at once. … So what we're gonna hear from that is a tune called "Broken Toys."
Sonny Sharrock: …I like to take a standard from that era, like on the "Guitar" record, "The Things I Used to Do," and change it into something of mine, you know.
Ben Ratliff: That's the Guitar Slim tune.
Sonny Sharrock: Right.
Ben Ratliff: And then, so, on the next one, "Seize the Rainbow," you did the tune we heard a live version of, "The Past Adventures of Zydeco Honeycup"?
Sonny Sharrock: Right, it's a version of "Tipitina," the great Roy Byrd.
Ben Ratliff: And now you're doing things like "Money, Honey," "Shake a Hand."
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, those things are primarily done with a vocalist. They're great rhythm-and-blues classics, and you know, they have a place in my music. It's not for everybody to do, but I can get away with it [Laughs].
Ben Ratliff: …Would you call yourself a jazz musician?
Sonny Sharrock: I always, at home, out of the world, think of myself as a jazz musician. I know a lot of people have trouble with that; they don't see me as a jazz musician; I've been called a rock musician and a rhythm-and-blues musician, a crazy musician. I don't know, but I've always thought of myself as a jazz musician. My training has been in jazz, you know. … I didn't start playing until I was twenty, and I started playing because of jazz, it was because of Miles Davis and Coltrane, hearing their music, Ornette Coleman made me want to play, so I came out of the jazz tradition in that respect. But my first musical experience was in rhythm and blues. So you know, it's a mixture. …I do have pretty deep jazz roots, so I consider myself a jazz player.
Ben Ratliff: Mm-hmm, and as far as people calling you a rock player goes, you actually don't listen to rock music at all.
Sonny Sharrock: I don't listen to rock; I've never had any experience in rock. I was once invited to join Ten Wheel Drive a long time ago. I didn't do it. You know, that was a rock band from the, when, '6Os, I guess? … But you know, I thought they were crazy for even asking me [laughs]. … But I have no experience or very much interest in rock at all.
Ben Ratliff: Uh-huh. The use of electronics, though, on the "Guitar" record is somewhat borrowed from rock musicians… rock guitarists especially.
Sonny Sharrock: Right. Now, when I say I have no interest in it, I have no interest in playing it. The work that the rock musicians did technically in bringing electronics, and especially guitar, the electric guitar, to the forefront of music is amazing, you know, I'm very grateful to them for that, you know, all of the things that they've opened us up to, it's really been great, but I'm just not a rock player, you know.
Ben Ratliff: … Let's talk a little bit about your early days of playing. In the late '5Os you were in a doo-wop singing group. Was it in 196O you decided to start learning guitar?
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah. Yeah, I started on January 6th, 196O. I'm good with dates like that, man. It was a Tuesday, if I'm not mistaken, yeah. I was living where I moved back to, my home town, Ossining, and the Daniel brothers, Ted Daniel the trumpet player and his brother Richard, who at one point back in the '7Os had a group called Brute Force which might be remembered by a few people, had started the band, Richard played keyboards, Ted trumpet, and they had taken music lessons, you know, all of their childhood, and they started a band, and they asked me to join. So I came into it. We didn't know what we were doing, we knew we loved what we were hearing on records, but how to do it? We had not a clue. But we tried, you know.
Ben Ratliff: As far as formal training goes, you went for a semester to Berklee.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, semester and a half, to be exact, and that was in '61, September, until sometime in March '62, I stayed in class, and then the rest of the time I just stayed down in the practice rooms, you know, jamming.
Ben Ratliff: Were you learning composition then?
Sonny Sharrock: I was a composition major, because I couldn't play well enough to be any other kind of major. I was a horrible player … I was a big star, man: I was the absolute worst guitarist [laughs] in Boston, you know. But I did learn all the basics of jazz harmony and composition. So that gave me a start.
Ben Ratliff: How long did it take you before you were actually playing on records after that?
Sonny Sharrock: I left there in '62, and the first record I did I think was in '66.
Ben Ratliff: With Pharoah Sanders?
Sonny Sharrock: With Pharoah, yeah, that was in November '66. I'd started paying with his group in October, and as I understood it, Coltrane got him the date with Impulse!, who wasn't too happy about it, but they did it because Coltrane said so. And we went out there and did that one night, did all the tunes. I think we did, like, two takes on everything and then came home.
Ben Ratliff: Mm-hmm. How did you get hooked up with Pharoah Sanders in the first place?
Sonny Sharrock: I was working with Byard Lancaster, we had been in Berklee together, and we had both come to New York about the same time in '65. And I was working with Byard's band down in Philadelphia, and he had set up some kind of concert on a Sunday afternoon in a club. … The night before, Coltrane had played a concert in Philly. And I'm onstage, and I have my eyes closed, we're playing, and I heard this sound behind me, this incredible sound, and it was Pharoah, and he was coming up behind me, playing. And that was the beginning for me. … And after Pharoah did that thing to me, I looked down in the audience, and there's Coltrane, and he's smilin' at me. You know, that was quite a day, quite a day. So, well, that afternoon Pharoah asked me to join his band the next night at Slug's; he had a Monday night at Slug's at that point. And I started with him that night. But then guys used to come and sit in, like Don Cherry and stuff. You know, it was really exciting. That's when I first started to get some attention around New York.
Ben Ratliff: Mm-hmm. What was it in you as a guitar player that Pharoah Sanders liked, and why did he want to hire you and have you on his record?
Sonny Sharrock: I would like to think it was for the same reason that Coltrane hired Pharoah, that's what he implied, it's been told that Coltrane wanted Pharoah to help him keep the energy up, to play in that way, to help keep the energy of the music up, and that's what Pharoah used to say to me, you know, that he wanted me to help him, to play along with him and to keep the energy of the music up. So it was an incredible experience, you know.
Ben Ratliff: So you made two records together, I guess.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, with Pharoah, yeah.
Ben Ratliff: That first one was "Tauhid," and that was… November 15th, 1966 in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
Sonny Sharrock: Right.
Ben Ratliff: Okay. We're gonna hear part of that recording… The personnel is: Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone, vocal and percussion; Dave Burrell on piano; Warren "Sonny" Sharrock on guitar; Henry Grimes on bass; Roger Blank, drums; and Nathaniel Bettis on percussion. Again, this is November 15th, 1966, from the record "Tauhid." And before we play this, your style of playing on this record was kind of a revelation; it was completely new; nobody had ever played free jazz guitar before. Is that right?
Sonny Sharrock: That's what I'm told…
Ben Ratliff: I wanted to talk about your influence, not your influence on Pharoah but Pharoah's influence on you and the influence of tenor players on your guitar playing, 'cause I know you feel very strongly about the emotional range of the tenor saxophone and how it can be applied to what you do.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, well, Coltrane being my main influence musically, period, and then Pharoah as to what I have termed one of "John's Children," which I hope I am. That kind of tenor playing is what really influenced my playing. I wanted to sound like that. You were asking before how I developed that sound; it was trying to get to that sound, trying to sound like they did. At the time I wasn't using any effects and a little lousy amplifier, but it was just overplaying the instrument. I played so hard on the instrument that the notes would sound like that; there would be break-up in the notes themselves, not counting the amp, you know.
Ben Ratliff: You were also playing a hollow–bodied guitar at that time.
Sonny Sharrock: At that point, yeah, I was playing an old Gibson, you know.
Ben Ratliff: Which sounds strange when it's over-amplified.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah…people used to complain that I played so loud, and I had a little amp, but I was just playing, you know, extremely hard in my hands, you know. That's why I always tell guitar players, you know: "Don't worry so much about your equipment. Your sound is in your hands." And it should be. But the tenor players were, I guess, the main influence, and it was the music that these particular men were playing, you know. It always goes to that. Miles was a big influence too, but it was what he played, the way he played it, you know, the sound. So Ornette is an alto player, but he was a big influence, you know. The horn players, that is the jazz tradition, and that's what I tried to do on my instrument.
Ben Ratliff: Had you considered learning the tenor or the -- ?
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, I did, but I had asthma, I have asthma, and it wasn't really practical for me to. And I'm kind of glad I didn't, because I think I would have tried to sound like Coltrane if I had played tenor, you know. I would have copied his licks like a lot of cats do, and I think I would have done that, you know. I think it would have just been too tempting.
Ben Ratliff: Do you feel that the guitar has natural limitations, though? I mean —
Sonny Sharrock: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. You don't put it in your mouth, you know, so I mean, it doesn't become a part of you like the horn does.
Ben Ratliff: … Are there any guitar players you think of as having been able to overcome those limitations?
Sonny Sharrock: Only the blues cats. The blues guys got into their instruments; the jazz players at that time — I'm talking now in the '6Os — it seems like there was a distance between them to the instrument and then the instrument to the music, you know, just seemed to be spaces that no one could leap over. It went together technically right, but there was something missing. By the time it came out to your ears, there was something missing in the music; there was an emotional drop-out or something, you know, where with the horn players I always felt it, you know. And, well, I guess it's kind of like that with piano players too, it can be, except for people like Monk, you know, McCoy jumps over that bridge, Cecil, certainly, you know, but you listen to some piano players and you hear it's all technically okay but sounds like they were in another room when they were playing or something.
Ben Ratliff: Mm-hmm. So after you made a couple of records with Pharoah Sanders' group, what did you do then, talking about the late '6Os?
Sonny Sharrock: Late '6Os. Oh, after the Pharoah period, you mean, what was I doing career-wise? Trying to eat, trying to pay my rent, very difficult. There was very little work for someone like me. I was with Herbie Mann for a long time, for seven years in that period, so that was how I made a living, on the road with Herbie off and on for seven years. The chance to really play the music I wanted to play didn't come too often, every now and then I'd go and I'd sit in with Pharoah or take a couple of gigs with Pharoah or something like that, but with Herbie, you know, I made a living doing that.
Ben Ratliff: … You may have been the first free-jazz guitar player, and you know, thank God, now I think maybe you're getting a lot of the attention you deserved, or recently you've been getting that attention, but reading through old reviews and things like that, it seems like you almost made a lot of people very angry.
Sonny Sharrock: Oh, yeah, yeah, and some of 'em are still angry. You know, I think George Wein is still angry at me for playing like I did on some of his concerts when I was with Herbie. …When I joined Herbie Mann's band, he was coming off of hits like "Coming Home, Baby," and he was also right in the middle of his bossa-nova period, so people who went to jazz clubs looked pretty much like those people you see on television, you know, I mean they were pretty much straight George Bush Republicans, you know, that went to see Herbie, at any rate they didn't come down to Slug's, but you know, they did come down to the Village Gate and to other places I played with Herbie. So I would upset a lot of those people. But then later on, after "Memphis Underground," Herbie started to get more kids in his audience, and I found more acceptance.
Ben Ratliff: Mm-hmm. Had you ever thought that you were going to provoke such reactions, though? I mean, we were just talking about a couple of outrageous things that were written and said about you in the early days. …Apparently on a radio show, Ira Gitler made the comment that he wanted "to put Sonny in a bathtub with his amplifier," which is a bit extreme. [Sonny laughing] And we were reading through a couple of old reviews in "down beat" that, while having, you know, sort of quite a bit of respect for you in giving one of your albums three and a half stars, the reviewer proceeded to say something about the fact that he would rather walk out on your solos than stay… I mean, it's hard for me to believe that, you know, people would have that reaction.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, well, you know, it's not hard for me because I was there and I used to see it. It didn't bother me, it didn't bother me, and I was always amazed it didn't bother Herbie. He dug what I was doing, he liked it being in the band, he never once in all those years told me to play any differently than I do, not that I could or would, but, you know, it never came up.
Ben Ratliff: …You don't like to think of guitar as a chordal instrument; you don't like to play it that way. What does that mean in practical terms?
Sonny Sharrock: It means that I hate to hear comping done on a guitar. Piano players can comp; piano players play chords. I hate to hear chords played on the guitar. Rock and roll, it's fine, but to hear jazz chords played on the guitar always — I don't know — it's just a horrible sound to me. I just don't like it and never have, so I don't play 'em. And I just always thought of myself as a horn soloist, you know. I would take gigs with guys back when I was doing that, and they would say, "Well, you know, I want you to do this," and "No, I don't do that, man. I just play solos, you know. I'm like a horn player. You know, don't call me if you don't want a horn player, because it's stupid, you know."
Ben Ratliff: Yeah, it seems funny to me that although the guitar has had its share of pretty serious innovators over the years, Charlie Christian and people like that in jazz, there haven't been very many guitar players who have really been able to alter the music, you know. And it's true that the whole concept of jazz guitar has been entrenched in this idea of comping and just serving as accompaniment.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, as a part of the rhythm section. And until bass players stopped to think of themselves, thanks to Charlie Mingus, that they could be leaders, that they could play out front with the horns, then the bass changed, you know. After Mingus, then you had Scott LoFaro and you had all of those people right up to Jaco and on who thought of themselves as "I'm just another soloist with the band," you know. And that's healthy; that's good, you know. I don't know if it was that it was so hard to hear guitar back in the early days when it wasn't electrified, they were instruments that kept the rhythm in the back, and then with the first amplifiers they still couldn't be heard very well, they took very, very short solos and then went right back to the rhythm, and their solos had to not get in the way. I like to get in the way!
Ben Ratliff: So finally you left Herbie Mann's group and you decided to make your own albums as a bandleader, so the first one was done in 1969?
Sonny Sharrock: Right, '69. I was still with Herbie at that point, he produced it, "Black Woman," but I was, you know, trying to spread my wings, trying to get out of that and get into my own thing. Yeah, that was the first one, and then the next year I think I went to Paris and did the "Monkey-pockie-boo" album. I was on tour with Herbie at that time, as a matter of fact.
Ben Ratliff: So you made, I guess, three albums during the '7Os… "Black Woman" in '69…
Sonny Sharrock: -- "Monkey-pockie-boo," and "Paradise," '75.
Ben Ratliff: What we're gonna hear next is a recording that was done actually right here in WKCR down the hall in Studio 3, and it's a group that you had put together at the time, Savages, with Linda Sharrock singing, Dave Artis, bass, you're playing guitar, Abe Speller, who's still playing drums with you, on drums, and Jose Santos on Latin percussion. And this was recorded in March, 1974. How long had this group been together?
Sonny Sharrock: We had been together, I would think, about a year, about two years, and that band is essentially the same band I used on "Paradise" except that Abe and Santos went on the road with another band, so I had to get other cats, that was Buddy Williams and Sonny Bonillia, and then added a keyboard player, but that was essentially the music we were working on right before the "Paradise" album, about a year before.
Ben Ratliff: … "Paradise" is a very hard album to find.
Sonny Sharrock: It should be [laughs]. "Paradise" is like an album of etudes. The classical musicians get a lot of respect for things that they probably shouldn't, in that they wrote a lot of music that was essentially just for study, and that's what happened to the "Paradise" album: The album was so rehearsed and I thought it out so much that it ended up being just etudes. But this is the beginning of that music; this is the roots of that music. It's probably played better here than it was on the "Paradise" album.
Ben Ratliff: Well, then, you're hearing historic stuff, and this was never released on an album, but it is a great, great recording, and it was made here, as I said before, in KCR, in the studios here, in March, 1974, March 21, 1974. … And we're gonna hear two songs, "Sweet Butterfingers," and "1953 Blue Boogie Children."
[Music, mike break]
Okay, Sonny, tell us about what we heard.
Sonny Sharrock: Okay, we heard two songs by the Solitaires, "Please Remember My Heart," from '54 and then "The Angels Sang," 1956, one of the best New York hallway groups. Then we went to the Moonglows, older group than the Solitaires…
Ben Ratliff: So you're a collector of doo-wop.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, I'm a collector, and you know, it's holy music for me, you know. Like I say, I learned my harmony from this music, and you can hear it, you know; if you listened to it a lot, you could hear that some of the things that I do harmonically are based very much in this music.
Ben Ratliff: Okay, I think now we're gonna make something of a turnaround to something else.
Sonny Sharrock: … The next thing is Aaron Copland. It's one of the episodes from his ballet "Rodeo," and as I understand it, it's a folk theme that he adapted or that he arranged for the ballet, and it's called "Saturday Night Waltz."
Ben Ratliff: Okay, so we'll hear that and then we'll be back to talk a little bit more with Sonny Sharrock…
Sonny Sharrock: Well, I'm definitely gonna do that piece, yes.
Ben Ratliff: You're definitely gonna do it, so you're working out the arrangements in your head to perform this piece with your band.
Sonny Sharrock: Right. Yeah, it's just something I want to play, it's so beautiful, you know, it's just one of those things that you hear and you say, "Yeah, I want to play this, you know, for a long, long time until I can" — The idea is to play that melody and then to try to develop melodies out of that that are gonna be as beautiful, soloing. That's what it's all about, I suppose.
Ben Ratliff: Next up is, again, something completely different, something, two other masters, people you consider masters.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah. Well, three, actually, if you count the composer: "Ah-Leu-Cha" by Charlie Parker, played here by the Miles Davis sextet. This was the famous Newport date in 1958, played live at Newport Jazz Festival: Miles, Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.
Ben Ratliff: …You have anything more to say about that one?
Sonny Sharrock: No, they said it all. I mean, the ability to play at that tempo and make sense is something that any musician I know is still trying to accomplish, you know. Very few people can do that.
Ben Ratlif: You were talking about how you keep on listening to this music, and you've become a lot more intrigued lately about running through changes and what a feat that is, the kind of thing they do on that track.
Sonny Sharrock: Exactly… The bass player, Ken Buchanan, has put together a thing in my home town where Ted Daniel and the drummer and myself are just gonna be going through some changes, just playing changes, because I figure that once you can play through the changes and make sense and make a beautiful solo happen in that strict a framework, you'll be able to do anything you want to do. I mean, it's just amazing to be able to do that. Jimmy Garrison told me a long time ago when I first came on the scene -- he said, "Get those changes together, man," you know, and at the time I balked at that, because it was the middle of the freedom movement, he had just left Coltrane, and I said, "Come on, man, you know, you played with Coltrane and you know what was happening in that band." He said, "Coltrane can play his changes." Now, I had forgotten that, as crazy as it seems; you know, he was the master of changes.
Ben Ratliff: …You once said, and this was in an interview twenty years ago, so you may have gone back on this statement—
Sonny Sharrock: I doubt it.
Ben Ratliff: -- but you said something about how Coltrane is amazing in so many respects, but he was never able to shake himself loose of time.
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, he did always play time, he did always play time, you can hear it in the free thing, he was one of the fathers of the free music, but he never played totally free, not just totally without time.
Ben Ratliff: Do you consider that a kind of limitation he was never able to get over, or-- ?
Sonny Sharrock: At the time I said it I may have considered it a limitation, but I don't now, because I've changed my view of what freedom is, you know, so at the time I was thinking that "free" meant to play without changes, without time. And now my feeling is that freedom is to play whatever you want to play, you know. I mean, for Coltrane not to be able to get away from time does not make him any smaller. There're certain things that every man can't get away from. There're some things in my playing that are just there and I'll never be able to shake them. I shouldn't, you know. They're part of what I do, you know, and that's the same thing.
Ben Ratliff: Well, speaking of freedom, appropriately enough, the next thing we're gonna go to is a Cecil Taylor record, and I find it interesting to be playing him on this show because he's another person who really enraged a lot of people and I think was underestimated in that nobody was able to see for a long time the emotional range in Cecil Taylor's music. Would you agree with that?
Sonny Sharrock: Yeah, absolutely. That's something that everybody misses. Cecil's technique is so astounding, and the things that he plays are so shattering, that you get hung up in that, but you don't see the emotional side. The song I picked, "This Nearly Was Mine," is a standard ballad … Well, I don't know if he plays anything but his own music any more, but back when this record was done in '61 or something like that, the trio of Buell Neidlinger and Denis Charles on drums, Buell on bass, he was playing a few standards at that time, and to hear him, what he does to this standard — I'm not very fond of standards, of the show tunes and the things, I was never very fond of that, always would rather hear jazz compositions, but once in a while a jazz musician could take a song that was written for a show or for some other reason and make it so much his, like Coltrane's "My Favorite Things," Miles on certain things, and this by Cecil …
Ben Ratliff: …And that's … from the record "The World of Cecil Taylor" … on the Candid record label, recorded November 19th, 196O, and that's a Rodgers and Hammerstein standard, an amazing recording, I thought…
Sonny Sharrock: … It's beautiful, beautiful playing.
Ben Ratliff: So next up we're gonna play something from Archie Shepp's record Four for Trane. … We've been talking a lot about John Coltrane and the way he influenced you, Sonny. What about Archie Shepp?
Sonny Sharrock: Archie: I very much like his playing and have always liked his music. I saw Archie play some concerts when I first came to New York with different bands, he was doing a lot of playing with Bill Dixon at the time, they had their group together, and I have always enjoyed his playing. Archie's sense of humor is very Monkish …and besides that, he plays with so much tradition. We have a lot of guys today who play with the tradition of jazz, but Archie seems to really have a grasp of what the music has sounded like from the beginning, along with cats like Albert Ayler, who was another one who had that same feeling for the music of the past. And this tune is fitting, it's from the "Four for Trane" album on Impulse!, "Naima" is the tune, with Archie on tenor sax; John Tchichai, alto; Roswell Rudd, trombone, and I think Roswell did most of the arranging for this album; … Reggie Workman on bass; Alan Shorter on flugelhorn; and Charles Moffett on drums.
Ben Ratliff: And this is from Archie Shepp's first record, I think we decided —
Sonny Sharrock: On Impulse!, yeah … thanks to Coltrane.
Ben Ratliff: … We'll play this… and then I guess say our goodbyes.