By Sarah Bennett
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Nothing is more crucial to musical excellence than how the composition makes us feel—its emotional resonance. Perhaps no greater example of this exists than Sonny Rollins' Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert. The legendary tenor saxophonist, now 76, was in his Manhattan apartment just six blocks north of the World Trade Center when the nightmare unfolded—in fact, he actually witnessed the collapse of the second tower from the street.
Three days later, Rollins drove with his band to Boston to perform a previously booked concert. Still in shock, he almost canceled the show, but friends and family persuaded him to use his musical gifts to help heal the enormous wounds left by the tragic attacks. And so he played, finally releasing Without a Song in 2005, which contains 73-minutes of stirring jazz born from heartbreak but buoyed by a spirit of hope and resiliency. Rollins went on to win a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for "Why Was I Born?"—a featured track on the album.
Mesmerized by saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, Rollins bought a King Zephyr tenor sax at age 15 and never looked back. Over the years—particularly during the 1950s—he established himself as a premier jazz soloist, playing alongside such greats as Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. A tremendous bop improviser in the spirit of Ornette Coleman, his exploratory rhythmic freedom is best captured in his signature recording, 1956's Saxophone Colossus.
Rollins now only performs live about 25 dates per year, so his engagement this weekend in Cerritos is a rare chance to see a true innovator strut his stuff. Don't miss out on this one.
Sonny Rollins at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos, (562) 916-8500; www.cerritoscenter.com. Sat., 8 p.m. $27.50-$55. All ages.