When Sonny Rollins Went Dutch

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Han Bennink (left), Sonny Rollins and Ruud Jacobs in concert at the Academie voor Beeldende Kunst in Arnhem, The Netherlands, the evening of May 3, 1967

(Photo: Toon Fey)

The Rollins in Holland packages include a thick booklet—24 pages in the LP version, and 100 pages in the CD version—that immerses the listener in the environment of the 1967 tour. It includes a new interview with Rollins, a warm 2019 conversation reuniting Bennink and Jacobs, comprehensive notes by Aidan Levy (who’s writing a Rollins biography), an essay by researcher Frank Jochemsen and plenty of previously unseen black-and-white photos from the tour—including shots taken during the trio’s May 6 performance at the Persepolis (a small club in Utrecht), which was not recorded.

Rollins In Holland helps to fill what was previously a gap in the timeline of recordings by the saxophone colossus. After the Impulse label released East Broadway Run Down in 1966, Rollins, who’d grown tired of commercial pressures from the business side of jazz, didn’t make another studio recording until 1972’s Next Album (Milestone). He was eager, though, to tour Europe, where he felt audiences were more attuned to the artistic and progressive aspects of jazz.

“I had first come to Europe in 1959, and it was really wonderful, because the European people had a different idea about music,” Rollins said. “The American idea of live music is more like, it has to have a commercial value to it. And that’s OK. But in Europe, they know all about Bach and Brahms ... . They don’t know the history [here] in the United States. [That’s] not a putdown of the United States, but the people in Europe love jazz and recognize the value of jazz. They seem to have a deep understanding of music, plus they treated Black musicians much better than we were treated here in the United States. All of that made Europe a wonderful place.”

In spring of 1967, Holland held particular appeal for Rollins, whose first European stop in ’59 was Amsterdam. “I loved Holland,” he said. “The people in many parts of Europe are very nice, but there’s something about Holland. I’m glad that we were able to make this record. It brings back some good memories.

“In listening to it, it made me feel happy. It made me relive the excitement of the moment. It was hard to remember the exact performances, but listening to them, I felt the excitement. And it was a lot of fun. I liked both my sidemen, who I got together just for those engagements. And it was good.”

Rollins, whose playing has been sidelined by respiratory illness for the last eight years, continues to pursue his love for all things spiritual.

“That’s my thing, since I can’t play my horn anymore,” he said. “I have a better chance now to immerse myself in my Eastern allegiance. I read my books and do my studying of these principles every day. I think I’m still playing in my head. I’m thinking about musical patterns and ideas and stuff like that. Every now and then I write down some little idea of a tune or something, but I quickly forget it because I can’t pursue it. So, I don’t want to get that into it, because I get too frustrated. But I’m very happy because I’ve learned so much about life. I’ve learned so much about Buddhism and Christianity, all of the religions. I’ve learned about Jesus Christ and all these people that lived the kind of exemplary life that I want to live. So, I’m a happy camper.

“That’s what I do. And now I’m very happy and watching the world when I can look at the world and not feel, ‘Oh, no, look at what’s happening, look at this terrible thing.’ But the world has always been terrible. There’s nothing in the world today that wasn’t always there. The world has always been filled with ignorance and hate. One group hates another group, this group hates this group, Christians hate Muslims and Muslims hate Buddhists—this kind of stuff. That’s the world. So, I have a perspective on what this world is. I’m not all shook up and saying, ‘Oh, gee, we have problems.’ I’m not there anymore. Because I know what it all is.”

Yoga continues to play a big part in Rollins’ daily routine—but in a way that goes beyond stretching and holding poses.

“Lying down on the floor doing exercises, that’s only one part of yoga,” he noted. “I started out doing that many years ago. But I can’t do all those things anymore. I don’t have to. There are so many different forms of yoga which apply to what we’re talking about, everyday living. There’s much more to it. There are so many facets of yoga, and they’re all about enlightenment, trying to get an idea of what’s going on in the world.

“It’s a learning experience. I’m trying to get more information about the way to live and the way to go through this life. I’m a big proponent of the Golden Rule, which is something which has been preached in all the religions that we know of, every one of them. They each teach something about how to treat your fellow man. Some say, ‘When your neighbor is happy, be happy with him. When your neighbor is sad, be sad with him.’ This is what life is about, man. We’ve got to look at it in a positive way.

“I also have deep intuition about incarnation. That means that I will be back. Am I gonna be back as some guy playing saxophone? No. But my soul will be back. The body will turn into dust just like anything else on this planet. But the soul will be going through eternity, getting better, learning things, getting enlightenment, going forever. So, I don’t have to be afraid of ending up in hell where guys in red suits are sticking spears in me. Whatever we don’t get right in this life, we’ll have another chance to get it right. Not as this person called Sonny Rollins, or whoever—that’s small potatoes.

“We’re talking about your soul. That lasts forever, man.” DB

This story originally was published in the January 2021 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.

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