For many people new to jazz their first exposure to Sonny Rollins was the image of him practicing his saxophone on New York's Williamsburg Bridge in 1958, lovingly documented in Ken Burns' recent "Jazz". No mention was given of the legacy Rollins has built upon since then.
A consummate perfectionist with a well of imagination that is seemingly bottomless, Rollins has stayed on top of his game for decades thanks largely to a rigorous practice routine. As a result, Rollins sounds as vital and forceful today as he did when he released such classic albums as "Tenor Madness", "Saxophone Colossus", and "Tour De Force" back in the 1950's.
Since 1970, when he signed with the Milestone label, Rollins has released the occasional album and toured at his leisure. This has only added shine to his legacy. Friday night at Symphony Center in Chicago, Rollins brought his quintet onstage for his first concert in the Windy City in three years. Dressed in Black, with sunglasses firmly in place, his white beard making him look like a Greek god, Rollins started off the concert with "Salvador", from his newest album "This Is What I Do". The song flowed wonderfully with a Caribbean rhythm that reminded the sold-out house that Rollins introduced Calypso to jazz music nearly fifty years ago.
The band- trombonist Clifford Anderson, pianist Stephen Scott, bassist Bob Cranshaw, and drummer Perry Wilson- got their moments to shine early in the set. Cranshaw conjured up Billie Holiday with his bone during Ellington's "In My Solitude" while Scott undermined some tasteful solo spots on "Reflections" and "East of the Sun" with needless scatting.
But the focus of the show was Rollins. Where he went, the band followed every step of the way. From his linear improvisations on Irving Berlin's "They Say Falling In Love Is Wonderful", to the blasts of Coleman-inspired free jazz outbursts on "Global Warming" that only contributed to the title, to the between-song quotes from "Tenor Madness" Rollins was at the top of his game. Dancing across the stage, lifting his horn to the heavens, or tucking it deep between his legs, Rollins proved that seventy is just a number.