Sonny Rollins

From Academic Kids

Theodore Walter (Sonny) Rollins (born September 7, 1930 in New York City) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist.

He started as a pianist, then switched to alto saxophone, finally switching to tenor in 1946. He was first recorded in 1949 with Babs Gonzalez; in the same year he recorded with J. J. Johnson and Bud Powell. Rollins recorded with Miles Davis in 1951 and Thelonious Monk in 1953.

Rollins joined the Clifford Brown - Max Roach quintet in 1955, and after Brown's death in 1957 worked as a leader.

Sonny's most widely acclaimed album Saxophone Colossus was recorded on June 22, 1956, featuring Tommy Flanagan on piano, former Jazz Messengers bassist Doug Watkins and his favoured drummer Max Roach. This was only Sonny's third outing as a leader in the recording studio, but it was a date on which he recorded perhaps his best-known composition "St Thomas", a Caribbean calypso based on a tune sung to him by his mother in his childhood: "St Thomas is a song my mother used to sing, it is a traditional tune". Throughout the '50s Rollins was a leading force in the development of what came to be known as hard bop. In 1957 he also pioneered the use of just bass and drums as accompaniment for his saxophone solos; two early recordings in this format are Way Out West (Contemporary, 1957) and A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1957).

In 1959, Rollins, frustrated with what he perceived as his own musical limitations, took the second -- and most famous -- of his musical sabbaticals. To spare a neighboring expectant mother the sound of his practice routine, Rollins ventured to the Manhattan Bridge to practice. Upon his return to the jazz scene he named his "comeback" album The Bridge. Throughout the '60s Rollins remained on of the most adventurous musicians around. Each album he recorded differed radically from the previous one. Exploring latin rhythms on What's New, tackling the avant garde on Our Man in Jazz, and re-examining standards on Now's the Time. He also provided the soundtrack to the original Alfie.

Frustated once again, Rollins took his last (so far) sabbatical using the "time off" to study yoga, meditation, and Eastern philosophies. When he returned in 1972, it was clear that he had become enamored with R&B, pop, and funk rhythms. His bands throughout the '70s and '80s featured electric guitar, electric bass, and usually more pop or funk oriented drummers. It was during this period that Rollins notoriety for unaccompanied saxophone solos came to the forefront. In 1985 he released his Solo Album.

Rollins is well-known for taking relatively banal, insubstantial or unconventional material (e.g. "There's No Business Like Show Business" on Work Time and "I'm an Old Cowhand" on Way Out West) and turning it into a vehicle for improvisation. Though he is not well-known as a composer, several of his tunes (including "St. Thomas", "Oleo", and "Airegin") have become standards.

Rollins remains a major figure to this day. He was presented with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2004.


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