By Stuart Mitchner
It was a madhouse. Everybody was running, women were screaming. All of this pollution coming out of the debris; it was like snow falling out of the sky.
I didn’t know how to release myself from him, and … I had some backlash, you know, on a personal level.
—Michael K. Williams on playing Omar
My idea of “shock and awe” has nothing to do with the label the Bush administration attached to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, wherein “awe” was supposed to suggest disarray, panic, confusion, and terror. “Awe” is what I feel watching Michael K. Williams’s astonishing performance as Omar in The Wire. And it’s what I’ve felt in the presence of the Saxophone Colossus, Sonny Rollins, another native New Yorker who, like Williams, was hit hard by 9/11. With Rollins at his most wondrous, there’s no end to awe, it’s like his definition of music as “an open sky.” And 20 years on the other side of 9/11, the giant is still standing, having marked his 91st birthday on September 7, the day after the death at 54 of Michael K. Williams.
TV reports of New Yorkers being evacuated in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks referred to “an elderly black man carrying a saxophone case.” According to @jazztimes, “Sonny Rollins had been home in his Manhattan apartment, six blocks north of the World Trade Center, when the attacks occurred. From the street, he watched the second tower go down.” The next day the National Guard evacuated him from his apartment, where he’d been living for almost 30 years.
Interviewed on September 11, 2019, Rollins commented, “When that second plane hit, it was like snowfall coming down. And that snow, of course, was just toxic stuff. Anyway, I gulped some of it down. We were waiting until the next day to be evacuated, so I picked up my horn to play. I took a deep breath and felt that stuff down to my stomach. I said, ‘Oh, wow, no practicing today.’ … So yeah, it’s been conjectured that that’s part of what happened to me.” He’s referring to the pulmonary fibrosis that ended his playing days in 2012. As he put it in an NPR interview, “I had to go through quite a period of adjustment after I realized that I couldn’t blow my horn anymore.” more