Sonny Rollins (born Theodore Walter Rollins, September 7, 1930) is a jazz tenor saxophonist from New York City. Rollins' love for music began as a child, having by the age of 13 received his first saxophone and was forever changed after seeing Frank Sinatra perform live. During his high-school years, Rollins played in a band with Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew and Art Taylor - all of whom went on to become jazz legends in their own right.
1949 saw Rollins collaborating with Babs Gonzales, which lead to work with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. The 1950s marked some struggles for Rollins, with two arrests that led to entering a treatment facility for heroin use. Once clean and sober, Rollins went on to have a long and successful career.
Rollins' sound incorporated traditional jazz and jump R&B. His recordings with J. J. Johnson and Bud Powell were categorized as “hard bop.” 1951 saw Rollins working with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet. 1953 saw a collaboration with Thelonious Monk.
However, it was his 1954 breakthrough compositions “Oleo,” “Airegin” and “Doxy,” that gained Rollins attention. In 1955 he joined the Clifford Brown–Max Roach quintet. When Brown died in 1956, Rollins took on the role as band leader and began a string of releases for Prestige Records.
Additionally, Rollins worked with Donald Byrd on trumpet, Wynton Kelly on piano, Gene Ramey on bass, and Max Roach on drums to record for Blue Note. The result was 1957's “Sonny Rollins, Volume One” with volume two arriving later that year. Also in 1957, Rollins pioneered a new musical sound by using the bass and drums with a saxophone solo, and no piano. This technique became known as “strolling.” Using this format, Rollins recorded 1957's “Way Out West” and “A Night at the Village Vanguard.”
1958 saw Rollins release, “Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders,” before embarking on a three-year hiatus. The album spurred the hit, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.”
Upon his return in 1962, Rollins released “The Bridge” via RCA Records, which saw a return to his traditional jazz roots.
Rollins continued to push himself further as a musician, exploring Latin rhythms on 1962's “What's New” and collaborating with other artists such as Bob Cranshaw, Billy Higgins, Don Cherry, and Coleman Hawkins on “Sonny Meets Hawk.” By 1964, Rollins had parted ways with RCA, and in 1965 Rollins held a residency at the famed jazz club Ronnie Scotts. A year later, Rollins provided the soundtrack to the feature film “Alfie.”
For the next seven years, Rollins stepped back from the musical limelight to travel and explore Eastern Philosophy. Rollins reemerged in 1972, with R&B, pop, and funk influencing his music. As the 1970s wound down and the 1980s came on, Rollins music focused more on a funk sound. 1985 saw the release of his album, “The Solo Album.”
Rollins continued to play live, collaborate with other artists and release work throughout the 1990s. 2001 marked a Grammy Award for Rollins, for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, for his 2000 LP, “This Is What I Do.”
2004 marked a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for Rollins. 2006 saw another Grammy Award from the live recording, “Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert.” The track, “Why Was I Born,” also won for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo.