Song 312: Sonny Rollins, “Global Warming” (2005)

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I love this song, but more importantly, I love that the person I love most loves it. And I mean Lizzie loves it. The moment it starts, with Sonny Rollins puckishly playing a few notes to get the party started, she becomes visibly, noticeably, palpably happy. I don’t know that many songs have that effect on me.

Part of Lizzie’s love for “Global Warming” stems from her adoration for Rollins, an 83-year-old tenor saxophonist who dances around the stage with the energy of a man a fourth his age. I share her adoration, because Rollins is a jazz genius, an undersung musician who, despite years of being known as a saxophone colossus, isn’t a household name like Coltrane or Parker.

When he played a show in Boston four days after September 11, 2001, he was 71. The fact that Rollins can produce a work so vital as “Global Warming” at his advanced age is a testament to his artistic commitment. He almost canceled the previously scheduled show after he watched the Twin Towers fall, from his apartment blocks away. His wife and manager Lucille convinced him that the performance was a good, even necessary, thing to do. So off he went to Boston. He played his ass off, and a recording of the event was released four years later.

All of Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert is great, but “Global Warming” is unquestionably its highlight. Rollins and his band play as if their lives depend on it, making music so celebratory and cathartic that it sounds like they’re exorcising demons. The song perfectly encapsulates what we were all feeling in the days, months, years following September 11, 2001: we needed to vent our frustration, but we needed to commemorate the fact that we were still alive, and that goodness, decency, and joy had to prosper in the darkness. Rollins seems to be personally willing that joy into existence.

There are a few moments on “Global Warming” that always stand out for me. The first comes around 10:30, when he starts playing a melody that sounds weak and dissonant, like he’s losing a battle out of fatigue. He then recovers a couple minutes later, with squawks that sound both triumphant and mad as hell. Finally, around 13:30, he settles into a fierce, jubilant phrase that continues for most of the song’s remaining two minutes. It feels like the good things in life have won, if only for a moment. (I remember once mentioning to Lizzie that I thought the moment at 10:30 was funny—that Rollins was making a jazz joke about purposely playing poorly—and Lizzie rightly and politely pointed out that he was actually playing that way out of feverish anger, which was one of her favorite things about the song.)

I don’t subscribe to any of that High Fidelity bullshit about a person’s tastes defining who they are; I think it works the other way around: often—but not always—a person’s personality can be reflected in the art they appreciate most. It makes me endlessly happy to think of the love of my life, and my best friend, loving a song so passionately devoted to making others, including herself, feel good.

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