Sonny Rollins at Tanglewood Jazz Festival
September 2, 2001 performance; by Dave Read
Calling them “world-class people, all of them,” Sonny Rollins introduced his band to the audience right at the start of his Sunday afternoon concert, and then went on to turn Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood into world headquarters of jazz for about 2½ hours. Coursing through a dozen compositions in two sets, the eloquent, elegant, and limber Rollins led his five-piece band in a performance that shone with a singular brilliance, but probably would have had many matches in the decades when giants of bebop roamed the planet by the dozens.
During his band-mates’ solos, he may sidle over by the piano, snapping time with his fingers, or stand head-bowed and motionless, facing in the same direction as the audience. All the while a world of emotion emanates from the stage, uttered by six individuals in language that is both sacred and profane, terse and wordy, crisp and chewy. Sonny Rollins is a commanding presence as he moves around the stage. His body seems to operate in sections during his own solos, as he goes high right for one run of notes, low left for another, and so on. The concert included In His Solitude by “our father” Duke Ellington, Why was I born? by “our good friend” Jerome Kern, “one that I wrote for the great Horace Silver during the halcyon days of bebop called H.S.,” and “our theme song, which we recorded with John Coltrane for Prestige, Tenor Madness.”
Rollins longest introduction was for Global Warming (from the 1998 Milestone recording of the same name). Saying it came from “the stupid mind of a musician who thought that we were despoiling the water” and mentioning the horrors o being in L.A. in the daytime and not being able to get a good tomato that wasn’t full of chemicals, he seemed dismissive of the composition’s impetus, ending by saying, “but hey, that’s politics.”
Whether or not art and politics make good bedfellows, politicians (and their enablers) would benefit by a daily dose of this composition, which is driven by the kind of infectious rhythm that makes you want to get up and bop around; not dance, but become one with the music as it rises and falls – just be – just bop. It makes you feel good, and it makes you want to communicate with those near you, maybe not with words, maybe not in an intimate nor a profound manner, just with cheerfulness and joy.
Sonny Rollins’s band: Clifton Anderson on trombone, Stephen Scott on piano, Bob Cranshaw on electric bass, Perry Wilson on drums, Victor See Yuen on African percussion.