Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Colossal Experience

I try to make sure my days are as filled with music as possible. It makes me happy, it restores my spirit, it centers me and fires me up. It keeps me going. Music gives me hope for the great acts of beauty and expression that humans are capable of creating.

We all need these reminders in life, and music is one of the places where I find that affirmation.

But even by my standards of saturation, yesterday was an extraordinary day of music.

The morning began with Chopin and Schumann, beautifully played by pianist Annemieke Spoelstra as we celebrated the launch of VPR Classical's new radio station, WOXM (90.1FM) in Middlebury.

I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the radio, enjoying and reflecting on VPR Classical's continuing celebration of the Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann bicentennial anniversary year.

Then in the early evening I popped Razia's new recording of groovy music from Madagascar - Zebu Nation - into the car CD player for the drive in to Burlington for the 6:30pm showing at the Firehouse Gallery of the Sonny Rollins documentary, Saxophone Colossus., and the 8:30pm FlynnSpace concert with the Gerald Clayton Trio.

(2nd floor at the Firehouse, film in progress! ------>

Saxophone Colossus
is Robert Mugge's artfully crafted film from 1986. It combines live concert footage with thoughts from critics, from Rollins's wife/booking agent/manager/producer Lucille, and from the Man himself.

Thought I'd share some of the observations I picked up in the film. In no particular order:
  • Rollins was the first person to break down the barrier of what a tenor sax "should" sound like - until he came along, it was a common perception that the tenor couldn't (shouldn't) be played like Charlie Parker played the alto.
  • Rollins has a "strong visual sense" in his playing
  • He's a communicator, always telling a story with a clear beginning, middle and end
  • Considered the greatest living jazz improvisor today
  • Comment: "playtime for us is wartime for Rollins"
  • "Unlike John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, Rollins never formed a band in his own image."
  • Rollins improvises from the melody rather than just improvising over the chord changes.
  • He's an "Aristotelian" player who offers an "orderly" journey, with no "self-indulgent honking".
  • Rollins' personal aesthetic drove him to unearth music no one else was playing, like "I'm An Old Cowhand", like Al Jolsen, and other songs from the '20s and '30s
  • And, finally, Rollins' own thought on his eclectic choice of repertoire: "if you find the right tempo, the right attack to music - you can make it work for you."
I'll see/hear Sonny Rollins this Saturday night on the Flynn Main Stage in a different light after seeing Saxophone Colossus and taking some time to think about the insights it revealed. I appreciate that "Discover" jazz not only refers to the music itself, but also to the educational sessions that are part of every year's Festival!

(By the way, speaking of music from Madagascar and the new album "Zebu Nation" - Razia will be performing on Friday night at 7:30, at Parima Thai Restaurant in Burlington.)

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