[JPL] Sonny Rollins at New Orleans

Larry Appelbaum jumpmonk at hotmail.com
Sat May 14 14:03:45 EDT 2011

in frail health? he's had stiffness in his legs for a while, but is there something you know about his health that makes you say this?

> 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.
> -- 
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