It's a measure of the excellence of the San Francisco Jazz festival, that they have the audacity to open with the saxophone colossus himself: Sonny Rollins.
Orrin Keepnews introduced him, it being almost exactly 50 years since they met during a recording date for Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners album. Orrin said that since there was very little creative control that anyone could ever exert over Monk, he just accepted Monk's choice of this new tenor saxophonist without question. One of his better decisions.
Sonny is one of the few living jazz masters in the world who can command a 3-minute standing ovation before playing a single note. And last night showed us exactly why he deserves such reverence. Through the 110-minute performance, this 76-year old infused his audience with a joi de vivre that most improvisers a third of his age don't have. He was just so happy!
5 years ago, when I saw him perform for the first time, I was too untrained to realize what a brilliant mind was behind those improvisations. His charm lies in the fact that he can take even the most banal motif through 12 choruses (an average number for all his solos last night), and find a distinctly engaging way of presenting it in each cycle.
And the man has chops. He may not have the intensity or angst of Miguel Zenón but I'd be willing to bet that in just sheer inventiveness, he'd leave him in the dust.
He didn't do an encore, but at the end of the night he got a 10-minute ovation anyway. We would've happily made it 110.