The great Sonny Rollins opened the Kimmel Jazz series tonight and really more than anything else it was so moving to hear the 79 year old saxophonist play full-throated melody lines and riffs with the same power he’s had for 50 years. He has not abandoned improvisation and the concessions he made for age are more than made up for. Breathless melody lines from Rollins, very much the center of the his tight sextet, on such numbers as ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ and ‘Global Warming’ showed a jazz master for all seasons. At the end of the set he thanks all of the jazz musicians from Philly in sincere tribute. A class act from a great artist.
I had a chance to talk to Rollins last week and it was such a privilege. Rollins told me he loved playing Philly but thought jazz in the Academy of Music was a “disaster.” He stopped playing clubs 20 years ago and prefers concert halls.
“In my case, I made that decision because I felt that jazz needed to be presented in the concert hall, rather than playing the old nightclubs with the cash registers going and all the other noise. I play real sets, not blah, blah and off, I put a lot into every performance and a lot of these places didn’t have suitable accommodations to support that. Having said that I do appreciate the intimacy of a night club vis-à-vis the performer and the audience.”
Whatever intimacy that might be lost was not lost on the raturously appreciative audience in Verizon.
Rollins is a big man and has a little trouble on his feet now, but he was so simpatico with the members of his band that he would move toward them for musical engagement. In fact he would lurch and it seemed like he was going to attack them with his sax. At moments, musically, he did.