Sonny Rollins, Barbican Hall, London

He blew like the legend he is – so why am I blubbing?

Tears started rolling as soon as the saxophone legend Theodore "Sonny" Rollins took the stage, and continued for much of the 90- minute performance.

Needless to say, the tears were mine, not his. They weren't entirely due to seeing this strong, vigorous man's physical discomfort, either, evident in his stooped posture and awkward limp across the floor; nor to the awesome love-vibes of the blissed-out crowd roaring out a welcome to the leonine figure in orange silk shirt and shades. No, this was more like Greek tragedy in the making.

At 79 years of age, Rollins – whose breath-power had, in previous shows, almost blown the roof off the building – looked vulnerable as never before. In the past, he would start with a full-tilt assault on the opening number where the solo could go on for 10 minutes or more without repetition, ideas cascading from his horn like a writer's perfect prose, the texture thickened with Joycean musical puns and quotes. Tonight, it was a decidedly low-key beginning, Rollins content with a few halting choruses before passing the tune over to the band. "Oh Sonny!", we thought. "Has it come to this?". But then – sly old fox that he is – Rollins took the second tune at a furious pace, heating up with a longish solo where his tone sounded as hard and unyielding as any tyro's. From then on, although the pace sometimes slackened, this remained a masterly show full of wit and guile as well as pathos.

The reduced firepower of the leader also led to compensations. A Rollins concert has never been about the band, who are there to back him up, taking up any slack where necessary. Some of them have even grown old in the service, like the bassist Bob Cranshaw who's been with him for close to half a century; or the trombonist Clifton Anderson who, as Rollins's nephew, really is part of the family. Now, tender solicitude for their employer's welfare is evident in every phrase and gesture as the lead is tossed between musicians like a basketball. Bobby Broom on guitar, and Kobie Watkins on drums, were particularly outstanding, and when the poker-faced percussionist Sammy Figueroa got his turn late in the show, he nonchalantly played the melody of "Falling in Love is Wonderful" on the conga drums, as you do. In fact the band were so nice that I probably cried again. It's not hard to find a reason for this shameless blubbing. Sonny Rollins is just about the last of his line: a swashbuckling, off-the-cuff improviser who personifies the very spirit of jazz. In many ways he's been an undervalued figure, not celebrated as a composer like Thelonious Monk, or as a bandleader like Miles Davis, or the founder of his own movement, like Charlie Parker. What Rollins really does is blow his horn, making any tune he chooses bow to his whim. Born in Harlem to parents from St Thomas in the Virgin Islands, his art exemplifies that fascination with ornament, and with insouciant showing-off, characteristic of migrant culture. He's suffered his share of racism, too. And I'll cry once again as I think about that.

The choice of songs was typically characterful from the man who once made "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" and "I'm An Old Cowhand" into vehicles for muscular improvisation. There was Noel Coward's "Some Day I'll Find You" (selected because – as Rollins told us in his broad, native New Yorker's accent – this was London), as well as a few of his own compositions including, of course, the iconic calypso "Don't Stop the Carnival".

This was played as an exultant encore with Rollins standing right at the stage's apron, pointing his sax down at the stalls and blasting the front rows with thunderous bass- notes, his feet dancing a cool little shuffle as he did so. Yes, I cried during that, too, thinking of Thomas Hardy's line about the passions of old age: "And shakes this fragile frame at eve, with stirrings of noontide". Then it was ovation-time as Sonny Rollins limped painfully off-stage and out of sight, helped by a Barbican minder. As the cheers continued, he came out of the wings for a brief moment to give us one final wave. And that was it, the show over by 9.15pm. It was enough, too: no one would have wanted him to work any harder. Truly, we will not see his like again. Let's hope that he returns next year.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture