It was an evening of love, an outpouring of sheer love and respect for a consummate musical artist, as we filed into Massey Hall to honour the jazz great, the almost-75 year-old 'titan of the tenor', Sonny Rollins.
When JazzFM 91.1 CEO Ross Porter referred to Sonny Rollins as one of the most "sophisticated and eloquent voices in jazz", the audience responded to these superlatives and stood up, and gave a thunderous Standing Ovation to Sonny and the band as they walked onto the stage.
Sonny thanked everyone for coming out, and noted how good it was to be back in Massey Hall, this 'august hall' (this hall with its echos of performances by such late and great artists as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie). Sonny was addressing these great spirits.
In a bright red shirt with white pants and white shoes, Sonny grooved with his rotating fist, his golden tenor grasped by his left hand, pushing and leaning into the tune as the rhythm section of Bobby Broom on electric guitar, Bob Cranshaw electric bass, Steve Jordan drums, and Kimati Dinizulu on congas and percussion, got cooking. Trombonist Clifton Anderson and Sonny then stepped forward and stated the melody of this medium-tempo rhythmic burner.
|Sonny's bottom growls are strong and vibrant, then his solo line swiftly changes and is played on an angle, he's so flexible, but it's definitely those swinging lovely repeat phrases at the end of each solo chorus that are making me and the young woman and man next to me (smile) amidst a sea of nodding heads.
Sonny strolls along the stage while playing, crouched and bobbing and feinting like a boxer, then planted on his feet, frequently blowing soft friendly obbligatos right into the next musician's solo; but when his sidemen soloed and they're all fine musicians our attention frequently wandered. There was an intensity drop.
Right after Intermission, Sonny kicked off on one of his patented Calypso-styled tunes. The melody was all open tones (like in army 'taps') and it swung and paced like an Albert Ayler tune. Sonny's forward driving melodicism and playfulness simply streamed. The congas of Kimiti Dinizulu engaged him in brisk cross-rhythmic patter. It was a party.
And when Sonny slowed everything down to concentrate on the standard ballad, "They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful", an introspective feeling spread throughout the house. Sonny's solo was so realistic, mature and yet tender.
On this evening, once again, Sonny gave of himself, and we were there to receive. Through his music, Sonny revealed a life lived deeply and authentically.
We're so glad he stopped off in Toronto as part of his North American tour.
Or, as Sonny said to us at Massey Hall that evening: "I hope to see you next time in Toronto ... but if not, I'll be waiting for you, up there."