Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sonny Rollins: Celebrating 50 on 57th

A legend took the stage at Carnegie Hall Tuesday night: Sonny Rollins. These days, anytime Rollins performs, it is an event. He was also marking the fiftieth anniversary of his first appearance at Carnegie Hall—although given his remarkable career, he could probably celebrate the anniversary of something notable nearly every week.

In observation of this anniversary, the first set consisted of the tunes he had played fifty years before, in an all-star trio format, with Roy Haynes and Christian McBride. McBride actually acquitted himself well in the company of jazz’s elder statesmen. Rollins has also recently celebrated his 77th birthday (Sept. 7th), and inconceivably the dynamic Haynes is eighty-two. (I’d suggest we all should be doing what Roy Haynes is doing, but drummers have been thinking that for years.)

The trio half of the concert was a showcase for Rollin’s robust tenor sound. The heavy-weight tone he achieved from his celebrated practice sessions on the Williamsburg Bridge remains undiminished. The second set featured his regular sextet with a program of calypsos, emphasizing his unusually strong rhythmic conception on tenor.

If not absolutely transcendent, it was a very satisfying concert with several highlights, particularly when Rollins and Haynes played off each other during the first set. Those who were not packed into Carnegie Hall (at times it seemed like the staff had never managed a sellout crowd before), will be able to hear it later. Rollins recorded the concert and will release it on his Doxie label.

Throughout the night, the crowd could not wait to give him standing ovations. At one point Rollins said words to the effect that asking for fifty more years might be pushing it, but he intends to keep performing for a least another twenty. That sounded good to us.