Sonny Rollins turned 75 not long before his performance this week at the UC Davis Mondavi Center. As is typically the case, my wife Liz purchased tickets to see Sonny and his band some six months prior to the concert. Funny how when the day rolls around, even after looking forward to it for months, we were distracted by parenting, chores, and the absence of energy for a cultural outing. We got angry with each other in the car not long after leaving our home. Our argument lasted and nearly ruined the evening.
Our lack of harmony met the odd confrontation of walking into the hallowed church of the arts where we were about to see one of the finest, most talented musicians to grace our good planet. The inspiration unfolded as a mirror to my foolishness. What focus and power this man represents after more than fifty years of honing and practicing his craft. I share this description from John Ellis (also a wonderful saxophone player that Sonny Rollins influenced):
“The term “organic” is used a lot in music. I think Sonny best defines
what that means–he’s an organic improviser. Listening to him is like
watching the sun rise or the trees grow. It never sounds forced, and
each idea develops from the next one. On top of that he has so much
humor and spirit–you can feel his eyes twinkle–or maybe it’s behind
his eyes, a sparkle, as if he’s amused by each phrase he discovers. And
it certainly sounds like every phrase is a discovery. He also has the
funkiest feel for time, but it’s really flexible. And his articulation,
like a drum. And his sound is beautiful, incredibly warm and direct–it
reaches out and envelops you.”
Seeing Sonny play the saxophone would cause most fans to be
introspective, but you have to be in harmony with yourself and your environment to allow the influence to wash
over you. The experience “sharpened my saw” in emotional and spiritual ways. It also to reminded me to focus on what is truly important.