[JPL] Sonny Rollins at New Orleans

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sat May 14 13:53:57 EDT 2011

When Sonny Rollins began the final set of the 2011 New Orleans Jazz & 
Heritage Festival, the 80-year-old jazz legend was obviously in frail 
health. Sporting a white floppy hat, a shiny black shirt and a bushy 
white beard, he hobbled to the stage, dragging his uncooperative legs 
along with him. When he began one of his trademark calypsos, he was bent 
over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. There was nothing wrong with his 
wind, however, and his brawny tone began tying and untying the bouncy 
theme into one knot after another. Several times, he seemed ready to 
bring the tune to a close, only to think of another idea and keep going. 
He kept going for 27 minutes, breaking only for a brief guitar solo by 
Peter Bernstein.

That was followed by a 10-minute ballad, a second 12-minute calypso, a 
10-minute bop number and a final, 20-minute calypso. Maybe it was New 
Orleans’ proximity to the Virgin Islands where his parents grew up; 
maybe it was Sammy Figueroa’s Caribbean approach to the conga drums, but 
Rollins seemed most comfortable with the calypsos. The lilting rhythms 
and short, melodic phrases made it easy for him to alternate a bright, 
singing sound on his sax with knotty harmonic variations and low, 
throaty honking.

Instead of tiring, as you might expect, Rollins kept getting stronger; 
his back even straightened up after a while. His fingers loosened up, 
and the notes started coming faster and freer. Maybe it was the presence 
of a young, terrific drummer named Jerome Jennings that stimulated 
Rollins into recovered youthfulness, but the set was far from the 
nostalgic, last go-round for a living legend many expected. Rollins 
still had a lot to say, and he kept delaying the end of each number to 
make sure he had room to say it.

It was a fitting climax to a terrific festival. The weather was the best 
anyone could remember for any Jazz Fest: rain-free, breezy, sunny and 
cool—or at least relatively cool for New Orleans in May. “The Haitian 
Connection," an attempt to link New Orleans and Port au Prince through 
the tragedy of natural disasters and the syncopation of the Caribbean, 
was the theme of this year’s Jazz Fest. It stumbled though some 
underwhelming Haitian performers, but it justified itself with a 
spellbinding Sunday afternoon set by the Haitian dance band, Tabou Combo.

The new wave of young Cajun bands coming out of Lafayette, La. was well 
represented at the festival by the Pine Leaf Boys, Cedric Watson & Bijou 
Creole, Feufollet, the Red Stick Ramblers and Jesse Lege, Joel Savoy and 
the Country Cajun Revival, who all delivered fine sets. But the best 
showing from this movement was the Sunday set by the Lost Bayou 
Ramblers, who demonstrated how Cajun music and punk rock could be fused 
without violating the spirit of either.

They did it by sticking mostly with acoustic instruments (fiddle, button 
accordion, upright bass and drums were joined by an electric guitar) and 
by putting real Cajun and real punk side-by-side rather than watering 
each down. So the fiddle and squeezebox might play the original melody 
and syncopation of “Pine Grove Blues,” while the guitar struck up a 
drone and the drums hammered out a staccato stomp. It shouldn’t have 
worked but it did.

Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99

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