August 4, 2008
GOTTA BACK OFF ON THE SIMILES:
Sonny Rollins's Endless Summer (WILL FRIEDWALD, August 4, 2008, NY Sun)
September and October will see the release of two new DVDs starring the tenor saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins. As with everything else in this mighty musician's career, timing is everything, and these particular releases indicate something of a disconnect from what we've come to expect. Summer is the time you want to see and hear Mr. Rollins, which is why he usually gives his annual concerts in New York in the dog days of August. Thus, even though the two DVDs (both of which feature him playing live in Europe) are arriving in early fall, the best time to experience Mr. Rollins in person is Wednesday, when he plays Central Park's Summer-Stage.
Over the last 30 years, Mr. Rollins has fine-tuned his music to the point where it's an essential summer experience. He has perfected an instrumental and ensemble sound that's so explosively joyful and euphoric that putting a roof over it would seem like an unnecessary step designed only to curtail its rapture. Saying that Sonny Rollins plays "outside" music doesn't mean that it's avant-garde (though he has played that, too); it means literally outdoors, honoring a tradition of jazz that goes back to the genre's beginnings. Jazz didn't only come from New Orleans brothels; it was always a highly social music heard at parks and picnic grounds, parades and social functions all over the Crescent City.
At least since the 1970s — the entire time I've been going to hear him perform — Mr. Rollins has presented his music less like a classical virtuoso in a concert hall or a jazz headliner in a nightclub than as a popular music maker. He has said that he'd rather play B.B. King's, the pop music miniarena, than a club associated strictly with jazz. He is almost without question the greatest living jazz improviser, but he's something else on top of that — an entertainer and larger-than-life cultural phenomenon made from the same mold as Harry Houdini or Enrico Caruso.
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2008 9:06 AM