I bought Saxophone Colossus. Oh my.
By 1978, Sonny Rollins was my favorite jazz guy. I was then a grad student living in New York City. One night I went to the Beacon Theater to see something called the Milestone Jazzstars, one of those odd things record labels used to do -- putting together a group of their signed musicians who normally didn't play together. It was Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter and Al Foster. Oh my. At the close of In A Sentimental Mood, I felt something wet on my face. I was coated in tears that I hadn't even known I was shedding.
So now it's forty years since Donald Fagen turned Sonny Rollins on to me, and thirty-four since I first saw him live. At 82, he still produces some of the deepest explorations of the soul. I've read that he calls it a search for perfection that never gets there, like a frustrating itch, except one that lasts a lifetime.
Three of the more revelatory concerts I've experienced in the last few years were by octogenarians: Sonny Rollins (I try to see him whenever he's in town, like tonight; it's always worth it), Ornette Coleman (likewise), and Ravi Shankar (likewise). Four if you include Joao Gilberto, who is now 81, but was in his late 70s when I saw him. Quietest concert ever. His voice was a whisper, his guitar a breath. A very ornate breath. They all had the air that performing is something spiritual, and fun, and not a pursuit of more glory. They have plenty of that. Shankar was 89. I swear that his hands and mind moved at the peak of his powers. Usually there's something different, slightly diminished as musicians near the end. By the first time I saw Dizzy he was in his 60s and his timbre was less bright. (Ha! About as important as a few specks of dust on a Leonardo.) But I have no doubt that had I seen Shankar in his 40s, it would have been no more or less spectacular than what I heard from him at 89.