He could only hobble across the stage, head of fuzzy white hair bobbing, sax clutched in a strong gnarled fist. The knees and hips of Sonny Rollins – soon to be eighty-two – might be worn out, but not his lungs.
He barely stopped for a breather – I saw him sip some water once – in nearly two hours on stage at Perugia’s open air arena, Santa Giuliana. And the more the Umbria Jazz crowds deliriously shouted “Sony, Sony” (no, not a typo – but the Italian pronunciation of “Sonny”), the wilder, the more intricate, the more powerful those trills on the sax.
It was clear from the start that he was giving his all to this city, these people who adopted for their own the “saxophone colossus”, Sonny Rollins, the first time he played at Umbria Jazz in 1995.
The day before his Umbria Jazz 2012 concert, Perugia made it official: in the frescoed medieval Notaries’ Hall, the mayor of Perugia, Wladimiro Boccali, presented the elderly jazz phenomenon the baiocco d’oro, medieval gold coin of Perugia – this city’s equivalent of the giving of the keys.
il baiocco was awarded not just to honor Sonny Rollins’ extraordinary career but above all, to commemorate his strong ties to Perugia and Umbria Jazz. The tribute inscribed on the parchment affirms Perugia’s wish “to honor the man and the artist for his contribution to music and the emotions he has inspired in generation of jazz fans. Perugia and her festival have a strong tie with Mr. Rollins…who has contributed in writing the history of Umbria Jazz. With this baiocco d’oro, Perugia, small great capital of jazz, affirms affection, respect, and gratitude to a giant of music.”
“Molto gentili, grazie”, the humble jazz giant answered in Italian as he accepted the parchment and the baiocco. Funk Off, engaging Tuscan street brass band – themselves always a crowd-pleaser at Umbria Jazz – sounded the final tribute, belting out one of Rollins’ own tunes.
Yes, Perugia honored Rollins who has given Perugia his all. As Sammy Figueroa, one of Rollins’ percussionists, summed it up as we chatted the next day: “Sonny was giving 100% last night – and there are lots of younger musicians who can’t give more than 60%.” But Sammy talked, too, about what Perugia has given to Sonny – and all the musicians who have played over the years at Umbria Jazz: “This is Italy, land of great food, great attitude, and our music is their passion. There is nothing close to this for a musician. This is a universe.”
(Note: Sonny Rollins will be back for Umbria Jazz 2013. As of this writing, he’s the first musician confirmed for next year)
Click here to read more on Umbria Jazz in Perugia
Read about that hot jazz passion in Perugia
Read about a talented young Sicilian jazz musician
Read more on that Italian jazz enthusiasm
Click here to read about Umbria Jazz Winter in Orvieto
Enjoy Funk Off on YouTube
Read another note on Sonny Rolllins at Umbria Jazz