A Sonny Disposition
Sonny Rollins Brings His Sax Skills Straight to S.B.
By Tyler Vickers
In his 76 years on earth, Sonny Rollins has played with jazz gods like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, overcome a heroin addiction, fled his home in New York as the World Trade Center collapsed a block away with only a saxophone in his hand and been widely acknowledged as a master of that very same instrument. Last Sunday night at Campbell Hall, it was clear that energy and persistence are two things that abound in Mr. Rollins’s musical – as well as personal – life.
This reviewer was admittedly wary at first – let-downs are always a possibility with aged performers, even if they are legends. That’s without mentioning the disheartening effect that the faint but distinct smell of Gold Bond Medicated Powder permeating the crowd of grandmas, grandpas and gray-haired folks of all shapes and sizes can have on one’s hopes for a lively performance.
Thankfully, Sonny retained his uncanny ability to wrestle and cajole the notes from his sax into whatever flight of endless invention that he wished. The 10 or so songs of the night’s set could have been divided into two groups – soulful standards and the eclectic, Latin or Calypso tunes that the “Saxophone Colossus” is famous for. Everything started off right with the swinging “On a Slow Boat to China,” which floated along to the airy variations of Sonny’s first solo and a heavier, yet dulcet, reply from trombonist – and Sonny’s nephew – Clifton Anderson.
Sonny even took an opportunity to poke a little fun at his advancing age with his introduction for the group’s third song, the sweet and lowdown “Stairway to the Stars.” He described it as one of the songs he loved when he “heard it as a boy in 1895.” He was helped out with a smooth, twilight solo from Chicago guitarist Bobby Broom on that number, and several others.
On another track from the group’s new CD, Sonny Please, Mr. Rollins played a crowd-pleasing samba dialogue with group percussionist Kimati Dinizulu on the conga, each man firing a string of fiery beats back at one another until they fused into one and the fans erupted in applause.
Other highlights included a marathon Sonny solo, full of experimentation and dizzying variations that folded back in upon themselves on the hip-shaking “Nice Lady” as well as a round of impressive solos on the well-known “Global Warming” off of their Without a Song concert CD. Overall, the innovation exhibited by all six members of the group was a classic example of improvisational jazz at its best.
During the second song of his encore, Mr. Rollins gave some insight into his longevity as he spoke in a rasping voice to the cheering crowd, “Just don’t ever get quiet! That’s the golden rule!”