The Sonny Side of Life

music_SonnyRollinsSonny Rollins resurrects the golden era of jazz at the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival

There are music fans that travel the globe like surfers looking for the perfect wave, and this year at the Monterey Jazz Festival there is depth, height and a wide selection of acts to please the most ardent jazz aficionado, or those just looking for a fun ride. Now in its 54th year and located on the Monterey Fairgrounds, this is one festival that provides entertainment for all levels of listeners: discussions of jazz in film with Clint Eastwood, a tribute to soul music with Huey Lewis and the News, a peek into the funkified world of Herbie Hancock, plus Terence Blanchard in a tribute to Miles Davis, to name a few.

A Grounds Pass will get you the Motown groove of Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88’s, the New Orleans sounds of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, and The Soul Rebels Brass Band—or you can upgrade to an Arena Pass to catch the bigger names like Huey, Herbie and India.Arie. All will enjoy tasty food and artistry at vendor booths, but be warned, once you leave your patch of grass, navigating back through the crowds will be a challenge.


Expect waves of fans to head toward the stage when Sonny Rollins stops by Sunday night. The showman knows what it takes to please an audience—from his roots in the bebop world of Coleman Hawkins, to his work with Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis and The Modern Jazz Quartet, Rollins is one of the last of the “golden era of jazz.”

With enough accolades to fill several volumes of jazz history, the 81-year-old is warm and willing to indulge even the most basic of questions. Asked about the meaning of jazz, Rollins says, “Is it a singer in a café with a piano trio? No. Jazz is the spirit in music, the spirit of freedom. And that will always be here. What we call the classical period can be seen in a photograph by Art Kane—of course Davis and Coltrane are not there—they were working and everyone else was available. It was those guys that made a big impact. Jazz is such an unpredictable form, it’s a spirit. Jazz is freedom—it’s the unexpected, it’s not always doing the same thing.”

Rollins’ philosophy on life is as thoughtful and deep as his reflections on the genre that he helped create. “It’s never hopeless, and it’s never hopeful, it’s just always changing,” he says. “We don’t know why we are here and nobody knows where we came from on this planet—but one thing is that it’s not all good and it’s not all bad, so it must be that there is a philosophy that we have to take out of that.”

Amazingly, after all these years, Rollins still takes himself to task on every performance. His own harshest critic, he never allows a sense of ease or comfort. In fact, Rollins treats every performance as a struggle, or a conflict that seeks resolution—a fact that guarantees the audience will be swept away at this weekend’s performance.

“No, it’s never easy,” Rollins explains. “Sometimes the results are easy and turn out extraordinarily well. Sometimes you cannot determine how these things happen. We’re subject to the elements and all the things that make a good night happen—and who knows why, because we try our best. We never know, so it’s never a sure thing. At least not for me, because I’m always trying to improve myself and the musical experience—it’s never taken for granted, like ‘Oh, it’s gonna be a great gig in Monterey.’ It’s always a challenge to satisfy the people and satisfy myself.”


The Monterey Jazz Festival runs Friday, Sept. 16-Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairground Road, Monterey. For tickets and details, visit montereyjazzfestival.org. Photo Credit: srabbott


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