Sonny Rollins, born Theodore Walter Rollins on September 7, 1930, is a renowned American jazz tenor saxophonist. Hailing from New York City, Rollins grew up in a family with strong ties to the Virgin Islands. His passion for music was evident early in life, as he began playing piano at the age of 6, before switching to alto saxophone when he was 7, and finally settling on the tenor saxophone at the age of 16.
Rollins’ professional career began to take shape in the late 1940s when he started recording with artists like J.J. Johnson and Bud Powell. In 1956, he began his legendary series of recordings for the Prestige label, creating several acclaimed albums. Among these was “Saxophone Colossus,” a record that many consider to be one of the finest in the history of jazz. Rollins’ signature composition, “St. Thomas,” debuted on this album, and its infectious Caribbean rhythm continues to resonate with audiences today.
Rollins’ career has been marked by periods of self-imposed withdrawal from the public eye, known as his “sabbaticals.” The first of these, beginning in 1959, saw him step away from the jazz scene for two years. During this time, he would practice his saxophone on the Williamsburg Bridge, a period in his life that is now part of jazz folklore. This break allowed him to refine his skills and return with a refreshed sound that continued to push the boundaries of jazz music.
Over the course of his career, Rollins has collaborated with an array of jazz luminaries, including Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, and Miles Davis. His adventurous approach to the saxophone, filled with dynamic solos and innovative harmonic progressions, has left an indelible mark on the jazz landscape. This has earned him numerous accolades, including two Grammy Awards and a Jazz Master Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Even into his 80s, Rollins continued to perform and record, embodying the spirit of improvisation and innovation that defines jazz music. His impact on the genre and the saxophone is profound, with countless musicians citing him as a major influence on their work.
Page last updated 6/21/2023.