Sonny Rollins @ 80 Birthday Concert
Beacon Theater, New York City
September 10, 2010
A phenomenal bit of good luck must be attributed to the gods for my ability to have captured two ducats for this extraordinary event that can certainly never happen again.
That Mr. Rollins has survived the jazz life for damn near seven (count 'em) decades is amazing in of itself, but to have had the opportunity to listen to him perform with the same fire that he has always had is, as I have said, a phenomenal bit of good luck. With him were an amazing collection of masters of the art, including his core group consisting of: Russell Malone, guitar; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Kobie Watkins, drums; and Sammy Figueroa on congas and percussion. The incredible line up of guests could have been construed as a line up of legends. Roy Hargrove, trumpet; Roy Haynes, drums; Christian McBride, bass; Jim Hall, guitar; and Ornette Coleman, alto sax. It was a straight through two hours with Sonny not missing a beat, or for that matter, sitting down.
Sonny walked on stage and nodded to his musicians and off they went. A new tune that I was not familiar with really got the crowd roaring as he wove chorus after chorus of free form cogent lines that held the listener in awe as the Master continued to extrapolate the parameters of the jazz art by being in the perpetual now. Had to say it that way and it means exactly as it reads. Next piece was his calypso rhythm, Global Warming. Continuing on with the same intensity as the first piece, Mr. Rollins did not waver for a quaver. Sammy Figueroa pushed Mr. Rollins somewhat mercilessly and they got the results they justly deserved. So did the audience.
First guest up was Roy Hargrove, whom Mr. Rollins introduced as a gift from the higher power of the universe. Mr. Hargrove greeted the Master, and then on flugelhorn, performed I Can't Get Started. The rendition was adequate but nothing to write home about. Then they launched into a nice romper called Raincheck with a lot of four-swapping. You could tell that they were both having a good time. The rhythm section was right there. I would have expected a bit more firepower from Roy Hargrove. It was coming.
Jim Hall came on stage next, and taking up his guitar, he began to play along with Sonny on the Ellington standard, In a Sentimental Mood. Though Mr. Hall was out of tune with Mr. Rollins, Sonny fastidiously added tuning notes for Jim Hall to catch up on. If Ever I Would Leave You was reminiscent of the collaborative efforts of both artists from the time of their seminal albums together from the fifties. Nicely done.
Sonny then introduced Christian McBride as right out of the tradition of Oscar Pettiford, and there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that this is so. Then, as Sonny announced, someone had arrived that was unannounced. Roy Haynes! Dressed in such hip bebopness, he strutted in with coolness aplomb and very tasty shades. The house flipped out. Also an incredible survivalist, he still plays like he did when he was at Jazz at the Philharmonic, which I still have on some 78's.
Roy Hargrove opened their set with a tasty ballad, can't remember the name, but they were off and running. The second tune was Sonnymoon for Two, a strong blues structured tune from the Village Vanguard albums on Bluenote, if my memory serves me correctly. It seemed as if Sonny was only getting started.
When who should appear, but Ornette. The house broke up as Mr. Coleman and Mr. Rollins started to riff on what reminded me of Blessing in Disguise from the East Broadway Rundown album. The structure put both artists into a free zone and they really went to work. They had never played together before. Due homages were expressed throughout.
Concert over and time for the encore and the continuous standing ovations. St. Thomas and excellent trades between Roy and Sonny. When they finished, pandemonium broke out and the ovation lasted for a good six minutes.
And, I had a ticket for this!
Coda: In another of Hanshi's Worlds, Steve Kaufman is a noted jazz historian and a hardcore tenor sax player.