Sonny Rollins, a youngster in his 80s

Today’s post is about Sonny Rollins who has been one of the most influential jazz saxophonists in the history of jazz with his humorous melodies and elegance. Some jazz musicians thought he was playing the saxophone on the level of Bird. Sonny Rollins is known to hire guitar players in his group since he appreciates the groove that guitar brings into a jazz band. Being a guitar player, I have to mention that this quality of his made me listen to him more carefully. The guitar players he hired were special talents like Jim Hall and Peter Bernstein. All of these musicians had a vast knowledge of jazz standards almost like a walking library. To play with Sonny, you would have to play most jazz standards in any key, tempo or style. Because, Sonny does not call a tune and count it off on stage. He plays and you have to follow. He could change tempo, key or even jump to another tune without prior notice. You have to listen and follow. When I see him play live, I see these changes happening in front of me and still get surprised every time. He can so all of that without bringing the band’s or the audience’s energy down. He is such an elegant virtuoso with great conscience. Because of his conscience, he withdrew from stage performances twice in his career to take a break and study his sax style. First withdrawal from stage was on 1959 since he felt he was getting too much too soon. He took a long break and used his time to practice saxophone and somedays he did that on Brooklyn Bridge. Hence the name of his come back album ‘Bridge’. His second break was on 1966 only it was a bit longer this time. I was surprised to see my friend Peter Bernstein’s name on a concert poster of Sonny Rollins when he came to Istanbul. I was really happy for him since I thought it must be wonderful to play with Sonny. I was watching Sonny and I was watching Peter watching Sonny during the whole concert. I said to myself “Wait a minute. He is on the band stand watching Sonny play just like I am watching him from my seat.” He must be playing and saying “Oh my god I am on stage with Sonny Rollins.” to himself. The following night, we went out to dinner with Peter and I asked him many questions about Sonny but one story he told overwhelmed me. Sonny had asked Peter “What are you guys doing between the soundcheck and the concert?” pointing out that the bands energy was not fully there at the concert. “I don’t know exactly why this happens but could it be because we do not rehearse/soundcheck for 2 hours in te other bands that I am in.” I had to jump in and ask “You guys really do a 2 hour soundcheck? Does he play the rehearsal with the same energy as the concert?” Peter said “Sonny does not know how to take it easy when the time comes to play. He either plays or he does not. However, he gives his 100% when he plays. He can not distinguish concert playing from rehearsal or soundcheck. It’s all the same for him.” I immediately thought “Yes, sounds like Sonny.” Then I continued “You did not finish your story. What did he say what you said about long rehearsal.” Coming from a jazz giant who is 82 years old, his answer was really overwhelming for me. “Is it guaranteed that we will play a concert. What if this is the last time we play?”