Sunday, June 27, 2010

for Sonny Sharrock

Sonny Sharrock was one of the great free jazz improvising musicians of the past century. Both as a sideman and a leader, as well as a solo artist, his free jazz guitar work was influential and iconic. I have most the recordings he appeared on, and I freely admit he influenced my own playing. When I feel like playing jagged melodic lines, or shards-of-glass chords and arpeggios, I think of Sonny.

He should have been more famous as a musician than he was. He was often a sideman on other musicians' projects, brilliantly adding his brand of sweet and spiky guitar to their projects. He played with Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, and many of the other iconic free jazz musicians. Late in life he had a "rediscovery" resurgence of his career, leading to several new solo albums, as well albums as a band leader, produced by Bill Laswell, who also wrote his own tribute to Sonny.

One of Sonny's classic comments about what he wanted to do musically could stand as an artist's statement:

I want the sweetness and the brutality, and I want to go to the very end of each of those feelings. . . . I've been trying to find a way for the terror and the beauty to live together in one song. I know it's possible.
—Sonny Sharrock

Here's the poem I wrote after Sonny's death. It's my homage and memorial. It's certainly not the only such poem to have been written.

for Sonny Sharrock (1940–1994)

your shards of glass
have caught you by the thumbs

and pulled you up:    up:
into extended chords.
They finally sound right,

ringing as they were always meant to.
You wanted the knife-edged tone
of your guitar to always be more
near Coltrane’s giant wail than it was,
forever tearing the envelope.
You ran your hands across the sharpened strings
till something bled:    our preconceptions.

Your fingers.
It’s not enough to just do.
You have to only be.    Be whatever it is.

Sonny, your in-the-moment
sheets of sound, wrapping around us
like the aurora, always caught me on fire.
Your desire taught you the way
to play without thinking; beyond thought,
in the music, in the instant, at once,
rising up,
perfection.     Melody.     The lion’s roar.

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