This past Monday evening, 78-year-old jazz virtuoso stepped out on the stage at Campbell Hall and, without a word, lifted his tenor saxaphone to his lips and began to play. Beginning with a repetitive bebop line as his backing jazz combo laid out a groove, Rollins wasted no time before he unleashed one of his trademark improvisational solos, to the great delight of the mostly middle-aged crowd.
Rollins, dressed in a black suit, was backed by a sharply dressed group of jazz veterans, including Clifton Anderson on the trombone, Bobby Broom on the guitar, Bob Crenshaw on the base, Victor Y. See Yuen manning the percussion and Kobie Watkins rounding things out on the drums.
Each musician was given time for a solo, but it was the band’s remarkable rhythm while playing together that showed the performers to be true masters of the genre.
Playing with jazz greats by the age of 20, and tutored by pianist and composer Theolonius Monk, Rollins developed a refreshing and creative style that famous trumpeter Miles Davis equated to that of fellow saxophonist Charlie Bird (the subject of a 1988 biopic by Clint Eastwood).
His performing style still features innovative and comic uses of well-known melodies in his solo work and composition. Monday night, this came in a solo originating out of a taunting, “nananana”-style theme.
Rollins’ interactive and comedic performance style helped create the loose, free-form feel of the set. Songs began without name or introduction, and it was often difficult to tell where one song left off and the next began. The one song title announced that evening was a jazz standard called “My One and Only Love,” which was colored by drum brushes and Yuen’s various shakers and chimes.
Other songs include swing pieces, a somber ensemble piece and an almost Latin-sounding, tom-tom-driven beat that, when combined with the excited sax lines – evoked a ’60s beach party vibe.
As far as showmanship goes, Rollins leaned over the edge of the stage as his solo began to peak. During brief duets, the musicians faced their instruments toward each other, seeming to play almost as much for themselves as they were for the audience eating it all up.
For jazz fans, and anyone with even a vague interest, the hour-and-a-half-long concert was a fully satiating experience, showing off a masterful blend of solo improvisation with a jazz-pop melodic repertoire. Rollins spoke only twice during the performance, and his raspy voice could only hint at the tranquil resolution his solos found after interlocking scales creatively teased and delayed it from peaking.
And, with a simple “goodbye” to the audience, Rollins was gone.