Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus

THE other day I was lucky enough to speak to Sonny Rollins, the tenor saxophone legend who performs at UCLA's Royce Hall tonight, Thursday, and at Segerstrom Hall in Orange County on Sunday.

These days, the once-brash, mohawk-rocking Rollins is 81, and, he's many decades from authoritative, agenda-setting records like Saxophone Colossus and Way Out West.

But the Rollins I spoke to was easy to speak to, boyishly enthusiastic, and sort of innocent in his love of other musicians, like composer Jerome Kern, who he called his favorite, and saxophonist Don Byas, who he called "One of my first idols and I prided myself that I could play a little bit like him." (He spoke specifically about falling for a '40s recording of "How High the Moon" Byas made with Jimmy Jones on piano.)

In thinking about what he and other jazz musicians really do when they are improvising, he came back to another saxophonist's description of telling a story. "I think Lester Young put it succinctly -- it's about logic. You can't just play anything. When I take a solo, the music has to make sense. I just happened to be one of the guys, along with John Coltrane, who stated playing long solos. Back then, everything was geared to shorter records."

And while Rollins' records have not matched his '50s classics, as a live performer he has reached another peak, says jazz critic Gary Giddins. My full interview with Sonny Rollins HERE. See you at Royce Hall.

UPDATE: Here is the set list from last night's very potent show. Especially pleased with guitarist Peter Bernstein, wielding an old-school archtop.
1.       Patan jail
2.       Serenade
3.       Blue Gardenia
4.       Nice Lady
5.       They Say It’s Wonderful
6.       Nishi
7.       Don’t Stop the Carnival

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