Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Sonny Rollins: Without a Song (The 9/11 Concert)

Sonny Rollins had been home in his Manhattan apartment, six blocks north of the World Trade Center, when the attacks occurred on 9/11. From the street, he watched the second tower go down. He was evacuated from his apartment on 9/12 by the National Guard. Three days later, he drove with his band to Boston (all airports were, of course, closed) and played this concert at the Berklee Performance Center.

A compelling story, but Without a Song doesn’t always contain compelling music. The tracks are too long (especially noticeable when someone other than Rollins is soloing), and the saxophonist is not functioning at 100 percent. (He says he was “numb” and has “no real memories” of the evening.) Also, the audio quality is only adequate. For Rollins’ fourth live recording in 33 years on the Milestone label, engineer Richard Corsello blended two tapes of the concert: one by a fan and one by Rollins himself.

Perhaps in an instinct to circle the wagons, the program is almost all standards from Rollins’ youth. If his paraphrases of the title track and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” are less imaginative and more repetitive than usual, the music is still powerfully affecting because it contains the new, raw emotional wounds that bound everyone in the room together on this night.

Originally Published