One more once on the Kennedy Center Honors
Was there a single jazz musician in the audience for the Kennedy Center Honors on December 3rd? Besides Sonny Rollins, that is, who was one of the five honorees. From what I saw on last night’s CBS broadcast of the ceremony, the only jazz musicians in the house were those on stage playing in Sonny’s honor. Is it possible that no other jazz players were there? It’s more likely that the show’s producers wouldn’t recognize a jazz musician even at close range, so what we got were shots of the Obamas and some movie and pop stars. At least the President and First Lady looked like they’d heard jazz before they got to the Center, and surely they appreciated Bill Cosby’s irony-laced introduction. Cos described his own surprise encounters with people in far flung places abroad (Greece, Hong Kong, the French Riviera) who in the midst of their daily routines were listening to Rollins, then concluded his remarks by welcoming Sonny home.
Yes, it was great to see Sonny getting the honor, to watch the montage of images from his career and hear the narrative voiced by Cosby. Rollins doesn’t shy away from discussing the problems he had with narcotics in the 50's, and the narrative didn’t either. As Cosby said, Sonny knew "the dark side of the night life.”
Is it this night world in which jazz musicians work that arouses the suspicions and fears of everyday people, not to mention cultural institutions and philanthropies? This apparently forbidding world, combined with the complex and unpredictable nature of modern jazz, keeps even its greatest players from receiving wider exposure in the press, the kind that might make them recognizable to the director of a show like the Kennedy Center Honors. Well, at least viewers got a chance to watch the great Christian McBride in action, and to see Benny Golson look us straight in the eye as he and fellow octogenarian Jimmy Heath locked horns on “Sonnymoon for Two.” Still, these are customary roles for musicians. I'd say it's way past time to search out some of the stylish jazz people who were sitting next to the movie stars in the house.
Bill Clinton emphasized the life-affirming humanity of jazz in his official toast to Rollins on December 3rd. Here’s an excerpt from his remarks, and the tune that makes him "laugh out loud."
"It was unbelievable, and it still is. Decade after decade after decade, this man explores the far reaches of the possibilities of what has lovingly been called the devil's horn. His music can bend your mind, it can break your heart, and it can make you laugh out loud. Still today after all these years, if I wake up in kind of a bad humor, or I'm worried about something, if I put on Sonny Rollins' version of 'Brown Skin Girl,' I will laugh out loud.