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15 Nov

Sonny Fortune Interview

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Sonny Fortune is a living legend. When we  speak of Sonny Fortune, names like Coltrane, Cannonball, Young, Bechet, Hawkins and Parker are mentioned. Quite a legacy - but well deserved - for Sonny Fortune embodies all of the finest qualities of those late, great musicians: hard work, dedication to his art, and exceptional music. Lucky for us, Sonny is still here and blowing hard. George Voudiklaris has met him for a little chat. 

GV - It is really an honor and a pleasure to be sitting next to Sonny Fortune. Welcome to Greece !
SF - Thank you

GV - Let’s start with your performance at Half Note. What are we going to see and listen ?
SF- We are going to play some music primarily of Miles and couple of things of mine but more stuff that Miles had recorded but I actually did not play when I was with him because we were playing more fusion music. This is more pre- fusion stuff.

GV - We started the “Miles conversation”. You were with Miles in a particularly dark period regarding his health but also a period when he did great things which were  appreciated much later. May be it was just too much ahead of the time .
SF - well, I think so as well. Most of the people, the audience I should say, knew Miles prior to the period that I was involved in, with the Quintet with Coltrane & Cannonball - most of the people knew Miles from that period. But eventually, that period that I was with Miles became very popular.

GV - Difficult Question. Do you think this experience of pain had any influence on his music ?
SF- No necessarly. I knew at the time that Miles was not well. But I remember him saying to me that he just felt like he could not play the music that he used to play because it was so demanding. I guess what we were doing was an alternative that eventually became very popular. But in terms of what he was doing for his pain that he was going through, it‘s kind of hard for me to say whether that had any influence on his music or not. I am more incline to feel basically what he said to me, which was, because I have some understanding of possibly what he was referring to and that is, “the music I used to play, you had to work at it” and may be because of not feeling well he did not have this kind of discipline any longer. When you are in pain , it ‘s not what you feel like doing,  it’s what you can do; so I think that may have more to do with it than what he was taken or what he was doing.

GV - You are playing this time with mostly European musician. The jazz music you played in the USA, has a huge perception in Europe. How do you see that when you come to Europe ?
SF - I have not been in Europe for 4 years. But the last time I was here and the times that have been in Europe, I would say that there is a larger audience here that in the state, but in appreciation, I think it’s all the same. I mean people usually react favorably to good music and unfavorably to bad music.

GV - That makes sense. How and when did you realize your life will be devoted to music ?
SF - When I was a kid, I was in to singing. I used to sing all the time. After I got married, I started being attracted to Jazz.Which was at first not easy.  But I recognize the value in Jazz, so I forced myself to move to this Jazz thing and in the process I got hooked.
GV - So pretty late in your life
SF - absolutely. I was 18 years old. I got married when I was 16, very young.

GV - And not too long after that, you find yourself playing with Elvin Jones ?
SF - I actually open up for Coltrane in Philadephia on event ; I used to see Coltrane every time in came to town; I opened up my band for him and then I ended up playing with him on this event. From that I  just took advantage of the opportunity to be friend with him and after talking to him a number of time and playing together,  I saw him one night in front of his mother house (she was leaving not far from me ) and I told him I was thinking about going to New York. So he wished me luck and he said, if you ever get the opportunity to play with Elvin, take it. So when I came to New York, I came looking for Elvin. I met him in a Club in 52nd street and I ended up playing with the band that night. Then, I met Frank Foster who was playing with Elvin at the time but he was ready to take off to write some music, so I was asked if I would  be interested in replacing him. A week later, Elvin called me and this is how it happened.

GV - Being one of the people who had played with Coltrane and Miles. Could you tell us how different was it ?
SF- I love Miles but Coltrane really changes my life. He was such a special person, a great musician, an innovator. The music that he was playing at that time was brand new, never heard before. Coltrane and Elvin, that was some brand new stuff. They will stay with me forever. I still identified with them. But with Miles, as I said, I love him but I was more influenced by Miles when he had his quintet with Shorter, Cannonball and Coltrane. And I tell you Miles had very special feeling about Cotrane himself. I remember reading an article where Miles mentioned Coltrane as one to look out for before Coltrane was somebody they look out for. Miles spoke up because they were talking about the next Charlie Parker. And Miles said Coltrane which was very weird because Parker was alto player and Coltrane was tenor player. That was the uniqueness of Miles. Miles had the ability to see something special in guys.
GV – I want to ask you about your days with McCoy Tyner, Mongo and all those people we idolize now.
SF – In terms of influence Mongo was very important to me. It was a great experience. My strongest influence of people I have worked with was Mongo and Elvin. A lot of my music has that experience of working with Mongo in it.

GV – What about the younger people who have played with?
SF – Some of the younger people I have played with are very good players, but I am always interested in  who are you, who are they; because I come from a school of trying to be original in your presentation. It may not be as common as it used to be.
GV – The new generation just download music. 
SF – It’s so different now. As old fox we still try to figure it out.

GV – How much America has changed since the days when you were playing  with Elvin ?
SF – I would say that number one, life is more complicated than it was then; lots of stuff going on. The world is getting smaller. We are all connected. We know what everybody is doing. We have to wait and see where we going.
GV – Thank you very much.
SF- My pleasure.

Interview George Voudiklaris - November 2013

Last modified on Friday, 06 June 2014 12:19