Riff Raff

End of an Era Next week, Peter Pastreich will relinquish his post as executive director of the San Francisco Symphony. After 40 years as an orchestra manager, 21 of which were spent with the SFS, the 60-year-old Pastreich says he plans to pursue writing and consulting projects, as well as spend more time with his family and in France, where he has a second home.

During his tenure — the longest of a chief executive of a major U.S. symphony — Pastreich oversaw the construction and renovation of Davies Symphony Hall, hired music directors Herbert Blomstedt and Michael Tilson Thomas, and increased the SFS's budget and income from ticket sales by over 600 percent. But Pastreich and the symphony haven't always made beautiful music together: At the time of the musicians' strike in late 1996 and early 1997, Pastreich was accused of skimping on orchestra members' salaries while reportedly earning a whopping $300,000 to $400,000 a year himself. Nonetheless, it seems to have been money well spent. One symphony spokesperson said, “The San Francisco Symphony's reputation has risen steadily and the orchestra is now ranked solidly among the greatest orchestral ensembles in the world, standing us in good stead for the new millennium.” (Stacey Kors)

Sartorial Sinners When jazz pianist McCoy Tyner played Yoshi's in Oakland last month, the largely black and Latino crowd was elegantly dressed: Women wore sleek black dresses; men suits, silk ties, and hats. I felt underdressed in just a dinner jacket, dress shirt, and slacks.

And when Charles McPherson, Mingus Amungus, and the Mingus Big Band played a tribute to the late Charles Mingus at San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium four months earlier, the scene was similar: African-Americans and Latinos mainly dressed to the nines. These two audiences keenly understood the cultural importance of Tyner — a touchstone to John Coltrane's legacy and a brilliant artist in his own right — and Mingus and his acolytes. The audiences knew respect was due and they showed it with their attire. Accordingly, they added elegance and meaning to the events.

On March 13, an even bigger jazz legend, Sonny Rollins, one of five all-time giants of the tenor saxophone, played one of his increasingly rare live appearances before an overwhelmingly white crowd at the Masonic.

Sadly and shamefully, most of the audience members were dressed as though they were going to a baseball game or a backyard barbecue.

A few attendees understood where they were and who it was they had come to see. I noticed an old fellow sporting a nice pinstripe number. My date spotted a woman wearing an elegant black velvet cape. And of course, all the African-American members of the audience dressed appropriately, many with fedoras and leather caps.

Unfortunately, they were the exceptions.
Jeans and tennis shoes, T-shirts, and baseball caps were the rule. One jerk looked as if he had just roused himself from his Panhandle encampment. He had plastic shopping bags sticking out of his down vest jacket.

That the crowd could not muster a greater display of respect embarrassed me. The lack of proper appreciation on the audience's part was matched, perhaps karmicly, by a generally weak performance by Rollins, who brought along his usual septet members: Percy Wilson (drums), Victor See-Yuen (percussion), Bob Cranshaw (electric bass), Clifton Anderson (trombone), and Stephen Scott (piano).

Of course, a weak performance by Rollins is not by any means a tragedy. There were still several great moments. But Rollins peaked early, after his third number, and for the rest of the show soloed only briefly.

That third number was the title track from 1998's Global Warming. The performance was everything you'd expect of Rollins. Centered around a Latin beat punctuated by heavy congas, he soloed deftly. (Back in the late '50s, a critic dubbed Rollins' music “thematic improvisation,” to distinguish it from Coltrane's new harmonic order. Rollins plays with, expands, and turns upside down the thematic phrases of a song, but never quite abandons them the way Coltrane and his devotees did. Even amid a squall of notes you can hear the main riff.) The crowd loved him for it. They roared their approval. Yells of “Sonny!” went up.

But on the next song, a Brooks Bowman ballad, “East of the Sun,” Rollins began to fade and never regained his energy. On two numbers, instead of stepping out and soloing on his own, Rollins traded fours with Wilson, building to a conclusion he and the capable drummer never quite reached. Many songs were dominated by solos from Scott and Anderson; the former played a sweet and delicate solo on “Echo-Side Blues,” another cut from Global Warming. And See-Yuen performed a flawless and interesting conga solo on “Duke of Iron,” another Rollins original.

By the last two numbers, “Where Are You?” and “Don't Stop the Carnival,” a Rollins concert classic, it was clear the great master was spent. The pieces were kept short and Rollins provided only perfunctory solos.

But any performance by Rollins, at age 68, must be judged in light of the singular role he fills. He's the last remaining innovator who came of age in the 1940s, who burst with creative energy in the 1950s and '60s — creating the best jazz ever recorded — who is still recording and playing live. He's our last link to Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, and the rest of the greats.

We naturally ask too much of him — as if every note, every phrase, will be our last chance to savor the best jazz has ever had to offer. No performance can ever give us that.

So it's doubly sad that this rare live performance was marred by a crowd who either lacked a full appreciation of Rollins' importance, or didn't feel the need to recognize it if they did.

Rollins' subpar playing was only a side note compared to that. (George Cothran)

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to mathitakis@sfweekly.com, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

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