That was the comment made by my seat partner at last night’s concert with Sonny Rollins. And that was before a single note had been blown. It was an observation on the 79-year old’s appearance, but it could just as well be a comment on his musical stature.
Rollins walked onto the stage to a standing ovation, wearing his trademark sunglasses, an elegant off-white jacket, and shaking a wild head of thick gray hair. Yeah. He’s a cool jazz guy. You’d better believe it.
With a furious run of notes, we were off on a musical joyride that wouldn’t end until Rollin’s former bandmate Jim Hall, had come out to send off the evening with two heartbreakingly stunning final tunes: In A Sentimental Mood, and If Ever I Would Leave You.
Other ventures into calypso (an homage to his parents’ native Virgin Islands), blues (with Rollins singing “Low Down Dirty Shame” in a fun, winking style); and straight ahead be-bop were equally powerful. Guitarist Russell Malone’s tasteful and gorgeous lines floated through the music like delicate parasol seeds, freshly blown from the dandelion stem. When Jim Hall took Malone’s place for the last two numbers, it seemed fitting. The two share much musically. Longtime bandmate Bob Cranshaw also did his part to offer many gorgeous moments, and percussionists Sammy Figueroa (congas) and Kobie Watkins (set) grounded the group with spirited solo work and solidly artful playing throughout.
I have to mention the one detraction to the night’s otherwise outstanding musical adventure: the Flynn Center’s eternally temperamental sound system in the house was not on its best behaviour to host a night with the jazz legends. I was fortunate to have seats 8 rows back, dead center, and I strained to hear Rollins through the first several numbers when all of the other instruments were playing. Really? Really? Sonny Rollins can’t be heard? If that’s what my experience was, what was it like for folks sitting futher back, or on the balcony? He did come through loud and clear in the ballads, and by the end during his tradeoffs with Hall the mix sounded just fine. But no one should ever have to work that hard to hear Rollins. He certainly did his part.
After the first couple of tunes, the gentleman sitting next to me whispered to his partner, “He’s got a lot of WIND!” That’s a fact.
I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a more musical experience at Burlington’s Discover Jazz Festival, and it certainly surpasses many I’ve had elsewhere. I’m very happy that memory will be my last from this year’s events.