My desert island disc? Sonny Rollins's 1956 album Saxophone Colossus, hands down--unless I'm allowed to bring a box set, at which point it turns into a toss-up between The Complete Prestige Recordings and The Freelance Years (Riverside). Rollins has provided at least three of my most memorable concert experiences--a show at Symphony Center in the 80s and two others over the years at the Chicago Jazz Festival--as well as one of the most disappointing, a night at Ravinia in 2002 when he had nothing much to say but kept hunting for a statement anyway. He's always had a reputation as a player with peaks and valleys, but for the best reason: he enters each performance intent on the search, totally focused on striking the creative mother lode, and refuses to play it safe by bringing a bag of tricks to bail himself out on a slow night. But his rate of success is incredible--hence the epithet "greatest living jazz musician," which has followed his name around for the better part of 15 years now. At 74, he's the last remaining titan among those who transformed Charlie Parker's innovations of the 40s for the postbop golden age of the 50s and 60s. Bottom line? You should never miss the opportunity to hear Rollins--every time he plays just might turn out to be one of the greatest concerts you can remember. His touring band includes longtime sidemen Clifton Anderson (trombone) and Bob Cranshaw (electric bass) as well as Chicago guitarist Bobby Broom, who first played with Rollins as a teenager in the 70s. Fri 4/22, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $29-$132.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.