OK, so, Friday. It has been a week now since the Discover Jazz Festival kicked off with Arturo Sandoval’s brassy, sassy, blazing opening salvo. In the last seven days the waterfront has buzzed with soul, funk, and folks clad in more raingear than sunglasses. We’ve Met the Artists, stayed up much too late (every night), and experienced the creation of art in real time with the lively JazzLab sessions.
What’s left? Well, concerts with two jazz legends, Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins (concerts which also include future legends like Joey Baron, Russell Malone, Scott Colley, and Greg Osby); a concert with a rock legend, Levon Helm; and an evening of reggae with the Easy Star All-Stars and the Wailing Souls. And all of the stuff happening in restaurants and other venues on Church Street and elsewhere. And don’t forget the Other Music Festival has its final show tonight too. Not bad.
Friday afternoon was the final Meet the Artist session, with Sonny Rollins and resident critic Bob Blumenthal. It would get to music and Rollins’ history soon, but the first question was more personal. Rollins: “What’s a day like? It’s easier to say what I don’t do. I don’t have any hobbies. I don’t cook – I do my little vegetables or whatever…and I practice. That’s about it.”
Rollins also confessed to still being addicted to “noise in the background” ( a really funny statement for a jazz front man) so he keeps sports radio on for company each day.
I knew that Rollins was from New York City, but I found it interesting that the first music he listened to was Fats Waller, on records and on the radio. Fats Waller: the ace protégé of James P. Johnson, the “father of the stride piano” whose own history is so closely tied to New York City and the blossoming Harlem jazz scene of the 1920s and 1930s. Interesting.
And it turns out that Louis Jordan was the reason the seven year-old Rollins implored his parents to get him his first sax. (An alto.)
On his young life in Harlem, Rollins said: “The Apollo Theater was my cathedral – and my university, when I got old enough.” He went there every week to catch everything from movies to live music and other theatrical performances. He attributes his lifelong love of melody to those early movie experiences.
Other random Rollins thoughts:
- “I was destined to be a leader and do my own thing. My music is so singular I don’t think I can fit in with a lot of people.”
- “I still practice today because I have the same feeling (of wanting to learn). Practice doesn’t stop just because you put out a few records.”
- On composing: “There are melodies going around in my head all the time. Like today. It all came about in a very natural, organic way.”
- “I always felt I was destined to be a musician. I turned out to be right.”
- On transcribing other musicians’ solos to learn from them: (and this is an UNDERstatement!) “I never was really good with duplication.”
- “I’m a pretty self-deprecating person. I know I have a lot to learn.”
- “Transition is part of everyone’s life.”
- On Coltrane: “I knew I would get the Coltrane question! He was like a minister, a great musician. As a person he was a beautiful person. We visited each other, spent time together. I would say we were very good friends.”
- And, finally, on Bob’s question “What was it about your playing that drove you to taking a sabbatical?” – Rollins: “You can not listen to what people say if you know differently.”
Near the end of the generous session, when the discussion was opened for audience comments, Rollins was starting to answer a question when he unexpectedly smiled and said, “You know I hope I’m not boring you. I’m beginning to bore myself with this conversation.”
Like the best of jazz players, Bob Blumenthal jumped in without missing a beat. Laughing, he said “So much for “that’s a good question”!” Really funny moment, as a veteran interviewer speaking with a veteran interviewee.
One of the nicest moments of the evening happened at the end of the talk. Bob, seated, was wrapping up the session with a few announcements including the fact that this year’s appearance at Discover Jazz was his 10th anniversary in the role. Sonny Rollins and the rest of the house were already on their feet since the session was concluding, and the Saxophone Colossus joined the enthusiastic, grateful crowd in clapping at Bob’s quiet announcement.
Right on cue with his hallmark quick wit once again, Bob popped off with: “I never thought I’d see the day I’d be getting a standing ovation from Sonny Rollins!”
Kudos, Bob, and a big thanks for ten years of sharing your humor, curiosity, and your deep experience to encourage everyone to enjoy jazz like you do. It wouldn’t be Discover Jazz without you.
From there it was on to the Jim Hall/Scott Colley/Joey Baron/Greg Osby concert at 8. Understated, with beautiful flashes of color. In particular, Hall’s hilarious arrangement of Benny Golson’s ballad Whisper Not (punctuated raucously by the occasional rhythmic group “HEY!” – really fun), his tribute to Sonny Rollins with Rollins’ own composition Sonnymoon for Two; Chelsea Bridge (featuring Osby in a hauntingly subdued, gorgeous solo) and the finale, another Rollins classic St. Thomas. Sweet.
Can’t wait to hear Jim Hall sitting in with Sonny tonight to revisit some of the great moments from their iconic 1962 recording together, The Bridge.