Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Honoring Sonny Rollins, missing Sam Rivers

Last night, Sonny Rollins was honored on the Kennedy Center Awards show. Just the thought of that is pretty exciting. Naturally I think ol' Newk is more than deserving of the honor, and it's good to know that others feel the same way.

I love Sonny, as a musician and as a human being. He was one of the first interviews I did as an intern at InPittsburgh and we talked for about an hour. A few years later, he wasn't doing interviews around the time of his appearance at the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival. So I faxed him some questions. Not only did he answer back a day later, his answers were very thoughtful and looked great in print.

Bill Cosby did the "induction" speech for Sonny, and while I feel like Cos has reached the point in his life where his shtick comes across more like a rambling old man (and the whole grumpy old guy act just isn't funny), he ended on a note of sincerity that was moving in its directness. The speech focused on how Cos traveled around the world, and in remote places like a dentist's office in Greece and a rickshaw in Japan, he heard Sonny Rollins' music - making it universal. "And tonight, we say, Sonny - welcome home." Something about those last two words carried a lot of weight.

For the musical part, Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane played with Christian McBride and a drummer who I can't remember. Then across the stage, out came Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall and Jack DeJohnette, along with Roy Hargrove, Benny Golson and Jimmy Heath. (McBride put together the film in between Cos and the performance and he probably assembled the band, which explains why there were two drummers but only one bassist.) It was brief and concise but good.

Much to my surprise, there was no sign of Wynton Marsalis.

Right before the show started, I went onto Facebook and found out that Sam Rivers died the day after Christmas. That hurt. Maybe it shouldn't, maybe it was a selfish, "now I'll never get to meet him" hurt but nevertheless, it got to me. It's hard enough losing a jazz musician, but losing such a mover and shaker of free jazz, feels even worse. If I didn't have the urge to write a review right now, I'd put on some wild Sam. Maybe I will on the way to work.

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