Meeting Sonny Rollins

I have had the good fortune and the pleasure of seeing Rollins perform twice.  He is nicknamed Saxophone Colossus for a reason.  If you have ever heard his music, you know why that is, if you haven’t, you should listen to some.  Both times I saw him were at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, a wonderful place to see a show.  I also had the good fortune of having excellent seats both times.  The first time I saw him, it was, what I thought to be great show.  After I saw him the second time, I realized it was a good show, as the second time I saw him he was absolutely amazing.  I am sure all of his shows are amazing, but this second one, he told stories, he was funny, he did a tribute to J.J. Johnson and he played some of my favorite songs by him.

I only want to talk about the second time, which was Dec. 2, 2009.  I love listening to his music and just watching him play.  There is something regal about this man, that when he just walks onto the stage he receives a standing ovation for several minutes.  I wrote him a letter after I saw him the first time and he promptly returned a handwritten postcard to me.  The part that stuck to me most was “we are all pilgrims on the path”.  So, during the intermission, my girlfriend Alex and I went to the backstage door to talk to the man in charge and explained how we had a correspondence.  I gave him my card and asked him if I could  meet him.  The man said “Be right here after the show”  I couldn’t believe it.  I was going to meet my hero!

The entire second half of the show was awesome and all I could do was think about actually meeting him and shaking his hand.  So we went back to the door at the end of the show and, as promised, the man let us in and we waited in a room for a while.  Then he moved us to another room and there were maybe 25-30 people back there and all said and done we waited about an hour and a half.  I didn’t care how long I would have had to wait, I had come this far.  Some people left and I still don’t understand why.  Alex and I actually got to talk to a man who played drums and jammed with Sonny back in the 50’s.  To me, that was just a bonus story, I mean how many people on the street can say that?  The reason it was a long wait was because he was doing an interview for the paper, or radio, I am not sure, but an interview nonetheless.

When Sonny walked in the room, you knew it.  Not because of any fanfare, just because of who he is.  He is an amazing man with amazing energy, he is also a class act-onstage and offstage.  As I stated earlier there were probably 25-30 people in there and he took the time to talk to each and every one of them and not hurry.  And no one hurried the person in front of them.  He signed items, like discs and posters.  There was a younger man there talking to him about comic books and Sonny stayed right in the conversation, listening intently.  Class act.  When the time came for me to talk to him, I didn’t know what to say, I know in my head what I wanted to say, but I definitely didn’t want to sound cliche’.  So after salutations I repeated to him what he wrote to me in the postcard he sent me “we are all pilgrims on the path”.  He responded with”that’s right, we are”.   Then I got a couple pictures taken with him then Alex talked to him for a moment and got a picture and then we left.   The entire experience is something I will never forget, from getting there and having a glass of wine on the roof of the Kennedy Center, to the show, and meeting my hero, Sonny Rollins.  The entire day was one of the best days of my life!

Thank you for reading this post.  -James

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