It didn’t even occur to me that I’d have such a visceral reaction to Sonny Rollins' show – to Sonny himself, his music, or his fans... the one-two-three punch of emotion for ol' Ryan.
He is old and walks slowly, with a limp. He holds his right shoulder significantly lower than his left, his body curved in the shape of his instrument. Sonny is the sax, the piece of brass in his hand his conductor.
I could feel his love for the saxophone as he walked from stage left to stage right, along with his band of brothers’ pride to play with him. As the crowd cheered Sonny Rollins onto the stage, it’s weird but I got very sentimental… before he even got to In a Sentimental Mood.
Next thing that got me was the sound of the tenor saxophone. My dad used to play when I was very young. I’d watch him as he soaked his reeds and practiced holding his lips and teeth to the mouthpiece. So now the instrument is so stickily close to my heart. If I hear a man on the street playing the tenor sax, I weep to myself and give him all the money in my wallet (usually about 2-3 dollars).
When Sonny started to play, I got a little nervous. My dad mentioned that he’d gotten older and might not have the chops that he used to. I heard a few squeaky notes come out of his sax and thought maybe he’d lost the good stuff. Oh no…!
But it was all good. I think he did that on purpose anyway. The notes he hit thereafter came out of Sonny Rollins' sax with force, with laughter, and with commanding certainty. The 75-year-old was jamming; he still had it. I gotta tell my dad.
At intermission I looked around the room and noticed a group of older black gentleman chatting. They had to be in their upper 70’s to mid 80’s. They all wore dressy clothes and caps. My friend and I stood fairly close to them and listened to their lively conversation concerning past jazz shows and festivals and who they’d seen, hotel prices in 1947…
One man in particular – wearing a black Newsies’ cap, dark printed sweater, and a warm smile – reminded me of my grandfather. My friend suggested that I tell him, but the thought of even uttering those words out loud was too much for me. I could barely look at the man with out feeling a certain longing for things past.
I miss the generation of cab drivers, smooth dressers and saxophone players. Thank you Sonny Rollins, for bringing it back for one night.