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Sonny Rollins’ London Jazz Festival Performance Shows the Old Lion Still Has Some Roar

Some performers who’ve risen to the ranks of ‘living legend’ do the sensible thing, and husband their resources. They keep a chair handy, sit out some numbers, and let the band take the strain.

Not Sonny Rollins. Now aged 82, the great tenor saxophonist showed that he’s just as impatient with his own limitations as he always was, just as determined to grab a melody by the scruff of its neck and wring every drop of musical interest from it.

First impressions might have suggested otherwise. Rollins seemed a frail and bent figure as he emerged onto the Barbican stage, looking mildly patriarchal and yet with a hint of something fierce under his frizz of white hair.

He launched into St. Thomas, one of his trademark calypso numbers which went nicely with his glowing salmon-pink shirt. It immediately thawed the atmosphere, but Rollins knew he wasn’t hitting his form as fast as he would have liked, and his annoyance with his recalcitrant frame showed.

Rollins is well-known for his disconcerting habit of scolding himself on stage (‘Get your ass in gear, Rollins!’) and it happened here more than once.

Somehow it worked. It wasn’t long before the back straightened, and his tone took on that unmistakable rich, focused sound, deepening as it descended into a curdled honk.

There was a massive decisiveness in that sound, which comes from the extraordinary mental focus that drives it.

His rendition of Once in a While began with a flood of ingenious variations, so luxuriant that the tune didn’t emerge for some time.

Though it was hard to tear one’s eyes from that indomitable figure, Rollins’s band wasn’t put in the shade.

Read more: The Telegraph


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