Some days I can whip off a blog post, no sweat; other days seem crammed full of demands leaving me with little if any time to think, let alone blog. [Hmmm, blog as a verb? Funny think how quickly nouns become verbs these days — something I have been known to abhor in days past.]
Anyway, I have at least two more posts in mind to wrap up my account of our New York trip, but haven’t written them as of yet. To tide you over, pianist George Ziskind has come to my rescue, providing me with a brief account of the Sonny Rollins event that I, and hundreds of others, missed out on. According to a bio blurb I read, George is “an ex-Chicagoan, pianist, and child of the bebop age, who has lived in New York City since the mid-’60s. He was one of Lennie Tristano’s first students and notes that, “The low point of my career was a month spent as musical director for Brenda Lee. The high point is yet to come.” He believes in: “God, Country, and Art Tatum (not necessarily in that order).” You can read his I Remember Tadd [Dameron] on the Jazz Institute of Chicago web site. Here’s his IAJE Rollins Report:
In a room holding about 2000 people who began taking the best seats more than an hour before hit time, a smallish area at one end was set up as a stage. Props were minimal: two armchairs bisected by a small table holding a couple bottled waters and glasses. The pre-event buzz in the room was electric and palpable. We were all waiting for the chairs to be filled with Sonny Rollins and Ira Gitler, the former to be interviewed by the latter.
This was more than one of the deans of jazz journalism talking to the premier living tenor player. Ira actually produced Sonny’s first date as a leader, over 55 years ago. They are as connected as (with apologies to the Bergmans) two branches on a vine. They are surely two bebop emblems.
At long last, out walked Ira, and then – Sonny, followed by instant standing ovation. (Not one of those “I’d better stand up because everyone else is standing up” ovations; rather, the whole room rose en masse, as if on cue. The joint levitated.)
Sonny was togged out in Full Icon mode. Navy blue suit, white shirt with that dressiest of accoutrements, a white four-in-hand. This was topped off with shades and a rakishly-angled beret. He looked downright magisterial.
For more than 75 minutes, Ira would throw out a topic or an event; Sonny then grabbed the ball and expounded. A few of the many topics:
– 1949, a seminal year that found Sonny recording with the likes of J.J., Bud, Fats, Kenny Dorham, John Lewis, and on and on;
– vibrant Harlem in his growing-up years of the ’30s and ’40s, having neighbors like Jackie McLean and Bud Powell;
– drugs, during which Sonny spoke in slow, measured words. He told how many who got caught up in drugs were loathe to talk about it later on, but how his late wife Lucille told him “Sonny, you have overcome drugs so you have no reason to hide this fact”;
– Ira pointed out Sonny’s ability to go on and on with a tune, draining every possible drop of improv from it, until the crowd would erupt in applause. At which, Sonny would plow back into the meat of the tune and deliver yet another 15 minutes of even more intense improv. At hearing this, Sonny did a piece of rare-for-him schtick: he put on an accusatory look and said to Ira, “Oh – so you’re calling me a ham?” The room erupted in laughter.
No breaking news was divulged; rather, just two guys chewing the fat. But, two guys who are surely beentheredonethat in what A.B. Spellman called “the bebop business.”
I know in years past that some IAJE events were audio taped and made available for purchase. If they are available, I plan to buy a copy of the interviews with Sonny, Clark Terry, and Billy Taylor. I haven’t yet found a link for same on the IAJE web site, but I have a call in to the powers that be asking about this and will post the info when I receive a response.