At a packed-out Barbican Hall, more than 1,900 fans, musicians and industry leaders waited excitedly to hear the revered saxophonist Sonny Rollins. The atmosphere was electric and as Rollins shuffled onto the stage he received a standing ovation. The audience held their breath waiting to hear that unmistakeable sound.
The first two tunes didn’t disappoint, but it was only after his ballad that his stamina seemed to double and his playing exceeded our hopes as Rollins blew us away, pointing his sax at lucky front row audience members. Rollins reached all the limits of the tenor saxophone playing through the registers with ease, with particular power in the very low register. He started his solos at high intensity; no need to build them up, he just slammed them from the start.
Trading fours with other members of the band, Russell Malone (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Sammy Figueroa (percussion) and Kobie Watkins (drums) Rollins proved his sympathetic ear and creativity. The extended drum solo by Watkins was incredible.
Playing ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ Sonny easily quoted ‘I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart’, ‘C Jam Blues’ and ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’ , Rollins’ whole body coursed with the music, he surely has jazz, instead of blood, running through his veins?!
Stepping up to the mic after over two hours of straight playing, Rollins addressed the Barbican Hall with words of love for London saying, “I dig it here”, and offering pearls of wisdom such as, “the only thing in life is to live life straight” and “it’s so important to have good friends, that’s how we live”. I could feel a teardrop in my eye, and I know I wasn’t alone.
Ending with the unbelievably energetic signature calypso tune, ‘Don’t Stop the Carnival’ Rollins had people up on their feet dancing and whooping. The roar from the audience when the song was over was deafening! The entire audience stood in respect and the applause seemed to last forever. An incredible night, which will live in the memory for many years.
Everyone backstage after the show was buzzing. Courtney Pine, Soweto Kinch and Moira Stuart among others were all excitedly talking about what we had just heard. I spoke to Sonny later one and he told me that all jazz musicians are blessed – we aren’t all as blessed as you, Sonny, with your incredible talent, kindness and humility. A true inspiration.