Friday, August 04, 2023

Ritual Spirits: Sonny Simmons 90

Sonny Simmons Trio - Body & Mind (aka Body & Soul) medley

I remembered after I wrapped up the Benedetto post that the next day was gonna be the 90th of one of my utmost echelon personal favorite players, so I am back and just frontloading August like it's a tax-dodger's offshore account in the Caymans.

This guy sometimes gets a bad rap, but I have a personal story that refutes those reputes, at least for the several hours I spent with him one day over 20 years ago.

I think it happened in the summer of 2000, when a roommate of mine and I were involved in this collective endeavor South of Market in SF called Cellspace, an artist-operated city block -- under one roof -- that had a metals foundry, housing units, and its own café among other attributes.

Another feature this giant creative playground had was a fairly large performance area, with a stage and seating for maybe 400 people at most.

One day my friend got a call that today's honoree was gonna play a concert at a nightclub in SF, but that in the late afternoon before that he was gonna play another one... at Cellspace.

Could we come help set it up? The whole show area needed to be sort of nailed down, dozens of folding chairs awaited our assistance.

We immediately motored ourselves over to Bryant Street, where the organizers put us to work.

This is where it gets a little surreal and a lot of awesome. Because it's three hours before showtime, and Joshy's job is gonna be to make sure The Main Event, who is apparently already here, doesn't wander off -- as he's somewhat legendary for doing sometimes -- and leave his band playing to a disappointed crowd without him on the 'stand.

They brought me to where he was -- Cellspace was truly a vast catacombs -- and I immediately (after asking to be pinched so I could determine that this was, in fact, actually happening) trundled him outside and to a nearby taco truck, where I got us food that we brought back to a sort of park bench/picnic table spot outside where the concert would take place.

The tacos proved to be unnecessary, as when we went back inside we discovered there was a reception going on for a kids' summer camp thing -- something to do with the metalworks -- with yet more food being served. We gathered some more items to eat and drink, and retreated to a backstage area off behind a curtain to the side of the bandstand, to sit down, chow down and chat for the period leading up to the performance.

Over the course of the next two hours, we talked -- a lot -- about music and about San Francisco, a city he had loved since he moved to Oakland as a child. I lathered him with stories of searching out pristine copies of his records, like Burning Spirits and Rumasuma, in by-appointment-only record stores in New York City years previously, and dancing to The Cry! at intermission at a club in The Haight at another friend's gig only just recently.

Two hours went by in what seemed like two minutes, as he regaled me with tales of Prince Lasha and The Berkeley Jazz Festivals in the 1960s, sitting in with Charlie Parker and writing and recording with the likes of Eric Dolphy. I must have sat there with my jaw just bouncing off the floorboards the whole time, incredulous that I could somehow have been appointed the minder for one of my Top 10 saxophone deities.

It turned out, at least for me, that the stereotype that he was gonna sprint off immediately to shoot dope or smoke rocks was untrue, and he turned out to be a sweet and loquacious dude. As it came time for him to go on and a huge assembled audience had become visible as we peeked around our curtain, he took out his horn case, reeded up, and Sonny Simmons told me that he thought I was the only one in the whole room -- besides himself, I'm assuming! -- that knew anything about this music.

I didn't record the show; that might be my sole, lingering regret of the entire experience. But, in lieu of that Y2K day I'll take to the grave, here's Sonny -- surely one of the most iconoclastically honest and incendiarily burning practitioners of the alto sax that will ever hold a horn in their hands -- fucking up the Moers Festival a few years before he landed, for a couple of hours, in my care.

Sonny Simmons Trio
24th International New Jazz Festival
Moers, Germany

01 medley including:
Ancient Ritual
My Favorite Things
Trumpet Ship
Theme for Jaldine

02 Body and Mind (aka Body and Soul) medley

Total time: 53:27

Sonny Simmons - alto saxophone
Eugene Baylon Jaceldo - bass
Zarak Simmons - drums

likely a pre-broadcast reel recorded for German NDR Radio
slightly retracked -- with volume boosted +3.5 dB throughout -- by EN, August 2023
300 MB FLAC/direct link

Hope you enjoy this show, and also my personal story of Sonny Simmons, who was born this day in 1933 and gave us --  as only someone of his immense experience with and commitment to the music could have -- the soundtrack to ancient and future rituals aflame with unparalleled passion.--J.

8.4.1933 - 4.6.2021