The Sonny Side Of Second

Thomas Gilchrist
3 min read
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By It started to pour today, and after watching the ruckus from my porch for about five minutes, I decided that I should go for a run. Out into the soaking inferno I sprung, enduring raindrops the size of sunflower seeds while sloshing through baby flash floods. I was at peace, and the whole experience strangely reminded me of Sonny Rollins, who I had the privilege of seeing last Friday night at the Kiva Auditorium.

Sonny is a character. With his wildly manicured white beard, wrap-around sunglasses, an oversized silk shirt and bright red handkerchief outfit, he looks like some kind of ultra-suave Santa Claus with Osteoporosis. Since he first picked up the tenor in 1946, his right shoulder has slowly but surely migrated closer to the floor, and his left has elevated itself closer to the ceiling, creating a Picasso-esque interpretation of how to hold the sax. His exaggerated movements echoed the mood of the song and emphasized the importance of the note, but made him appear like he was dancing with Will Smith to “Here Come the Men In Black.” I think we all remember that music video.

He is considered by "aficionados" to be one of the last living links to jazz’s golden era, and even in his hobbled, 76 year-old state, his very presence embodies that spirit of musical joy, and his playing only amplifies the feeling.

Sonny’s quintet was made up of a combination of young and old, ranging from the revered Bob Cranshaw on bass to the unknown Juilliard student Jerome Jennings on drums. Jennings could more than keep up with the veterans, however, trading four and eight-bar solos with Rollins and the others throughout the show.

The Kiva, which can accommodate up to 2,300 people, was disappointingly empty, considering that the Albuquerque stop was his third-to-last show in the U.S. this year. People were corralled into the middle two sections, leaving the outsides completely empty. Tickets did cost up to $66, but Sonny’s performance the next day at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, by comparison, admittedly at a seating capacity of just 821, was reportedly sold out.

At the end of the concert, the audience standing, clapping to “Global Warming,” there was Sonny, right out at the top of the stage bouncing along to the groove, his colossal tenor growling like a broken sub-woofer. And we ate it up! Oh, did we ever! People were whistling, hooting and hollering like girls at an Elvis show in the ’50s—and this wasn’t no “Blue Suede Shoes,” either.

But like all storms run out of rain and wind, Sonny and his band filled up the time card, and it was time to go home. We tried to get at least one outpouring of an encore, to no avail. Out we walked, bouncing and humming to that sweet sound of the tenor player with the wild eyes who is everything jazz is and could ever hope to be.
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