Seated on a podium in the Prince’s Gallery, a 76-year-old Rollins and 70-year-old Reich both sported dark baseball caps.
With his snow-white beard, sunglasses and dark Kansas City cap, Rollins looked every bit the ageing jazz legend. In fact, when all the talk of jazz began to go over people’s heads, the cap soon brought the conversation back down to earth.
“My wife was from Kansas City,” he said.
His wife Lucille passed away in 2004. But that was not the main reason for wearing the cap.
“And it’s not the team either. I wear caps that are colour-coordinated with my clothes,” he said.
Here he was, the man who played with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Theolonius Monk during the golden age of jazz in the 1950s, talking about his cap.
He did however plan leaving it in his room before meeting the King of Sweden for the prize-giving ceremony.
“I’m not sure the king would appreciate me wearing a cap,” he said.
But by the time two female journalists had commented on how stylish he looked, the tenor saxophonist was having a serious rethink.
“Maybe he might not object to my wearing a cap,” he said.
Steve Reich’s cap, which was plain, did not elicit the same interest. Instead he talked about his early musical influences, among whom he counted the man sitting next to him.
“I used to go to jazz clubs when I was sixteen. It was around that time I first heard Sonny Rollins on a ten inch EP,” he said.
Steve Reich, once referred to by The New Yorker as “the most original musical thinker of our time”, has been composing music for fifty years.
His music has often been referred to as minimalist, though he admits to disliking the description. He has been influenced by jazz and African drum music, but not by rock ‘n’ roll.
“I didn’t understand back then why people would listen to Rock Around the Clock when they had all these different choices. And I still don’t understand,” he said.
Both expressed the wish that the award and the prize money would not distract them from their music, though Reich confessed that the cash would come in handy for a new furnace.
The Polar Music Prize was founded in 1989 by Abba’s “fifth member”, Stig Andersson with the aim of awarding “individuals, groups or institutions, working in the international arena, in recognition of exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music.
It is organized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and presented in Konserthuset, the concert hall in which the Nobel Prizes are awarded.