TOKYO — Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins — one of the last surviving legends of the golden era of jazz — has just turned 80. His hair is a burst of white, and he staggers a bit when he walks on stage.
But when he plays, he still sounds like a 20-year-old, and his Japanese fans can't get enough.
Rollins is back this week on an 80th birthday tour in this nation long known for its love of jazz.
It's also a place where Rollins feels at home. Since 1963, when he first visited Japan, Rollins has studied Buddhism, yoga and meditation, and frequents the temples and bamboo forests of the ancient capital of Kyoto.
"Maybe I was Japanese in my past life," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home in Germantown, New York, ahead of his trip.
Rollins, who turned 80 on Sept. 7, has visited Japan more than 20 times, almost always playing to sellout crowds.
Each time, he brings the unmistakable power of his legacy, which includes collaborations with some of the biggest names in jazz — Max Roach, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.
The crowd at JCB Hall in Tokyo on Monday clapped adoringly at his solos and gave him a long standing ovation after his 1 1/2-hour performance. He has three other concerts in Japan through Saturday.
"He was gorgeous," said schoolteacher Shoko Tateishi, who has heard Rollins three times, as well as Chet Baker and Ron Carter. "You didn't sense his age a bit."
Throughout his trademark piano-less performance, with Bob Cranshaw on bass, Russell Malone on guitar, Kobie Watkins on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion, Rollins' sound was full and energetic — befitting his reputation as the "saxophone colossus."
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