|Birth Day:||September 7, 1930|
|Birth Place:||New York City, United States|
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He played in a jazz band in high school and worked on his first recordings in 1949, going on to collaborate with Miles Davis and other famed musicians.
Rollins was born in New York City to parents from the United States Virgin Islands. The youngest of three siblings, he grew up in central Harlem and on Sugar Hill, receiving his first alto saxophone at the age of seven or eight. He attended Edward W. Stitt Junior High School and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem. Rollins started as a pianist, changed to alto saxophone, and finally switched to tenor in 1946. During his high school years, he played in a band with other future jazz legends Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew, and Art Taylor.
After graduating from high school in 1948, Rollins began performing professionally; he made his first recordings in early 1949 as a sideman with the bebop singer Babs Gonzales (trombonist J. J. Johnson was the arranger of the group). Within the next few months, he began to make a name for himself, recording with Johnson and appearing under the leadership of pianist Bud Powell, alongside trumpeter Fats Navarro and drummer Roy Haynes, on a seminal "hard bop" session.
In early 1950, Rollins was arrested for armed robbery and spent ten months in Rikers Island jail before being released on parole; in 1952, he was re-arrested for violating the terms of his parole by using heroin. Between 1951 and 1953, he recorded with Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk. A breakthrough arrived in 1954 when he recorded his famous compositions "Oleo", "Airegin", and "Doxy" with a quintet led by Davis that also featured pianist Horace Silver, these recordings appearing on the album Bags' Groove.
In 1955, Rollins entered the Federal Medical Center, Lexington, at the time the only assistance in the U.S. for drug addicts. While there, he volunteered for then-experimental methadone therapy and was able to break his heroin habit, after which he lived for a time in Chicago, briefly rooming with the trumpeter Booker Little. Rollins initially feared sobriety would impair his musicianship, but then went on to greater success.
His widely acclaimed album Saxophone Colossus was recorded on June 22, 1956, at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey, with Tommy Flanagan on piano, former Jazz Messengers bassist Doug Watkins, and his favorite drummer, Roach. This was Rollins's sixth recording as a leader and it included his best-known composition "St. Thomas", a Caribbean calypso based on a tune sung to him by his mother in his childhood, as well as the fast bebop number "Strode Rode", and "Moritat" (the Kurt Weill composition also known as "Mack the Knife"). A long blues solo on Saxophone Colossus, "Blue 7", was analyzed in depth by the composer and critic Gunther Schuller in a 1958 article.
In 1956 he also recorded Tenor Madness, using Davis's group – pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. The title track is the only recording of Rollins with John Coltrane, who was also a member of Davis's group.
In 1957 he married the actress and model Dawn Finney.
In 1957, Rollins pioneered the use of bass and drums, without piano, as accompaniment for his saxophone solos, a texture that came to be known as "strolling." Two early tenor/bass/drums trio recordings are Way Out West and A Night at the Village Vanguard, both recorded in 1957. Way Out West was so named because it was recorded for California-based Contemporary Records (with Los Angeles drummer Shelly Manne), and because it included country and western songs such as "Wagon Wheels" and "I'm an Old Cowhand". The Village Vanguard album consists of two sets, a matinee with bassist Donald Bailey and drummer Pete LaRoca and an evening set with bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Elvin Jones. Rollins used the trio format intermittently throughout his career, sometimes taking the unusual step of using his sax as a rhythm section instrument during bass and drum solos. Lew Tabackin cited Rollins's pianoless trio as an inspiration to lead his own. Joe Henderson, David S. Ware, Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, and Joshua Redman have also led pianoless sax trios.
While in Los Angeles in 1957, Rollins met alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and the two of them practiced together. Coleman, a pioneer of free jazz, stopped using a pianist in his own band two years later.
In 1957 he made his Carnegie Hall debut and recorded again for Blue Note with Johnson on trombone, Horace Silver or Monk on piano and drummer Art Blakey (released as Sonny Rollins, Volume Two). That December, he and fellow tenor saxophonist Sonny Stitt were featured together on Dizzy Gillespie's album Sonny Side Up.
In 1958, he appeared in Art Kane's A Great Day in Harlem photograph of jazz musicians in New York; he is one of only two surviving musicians from the photo (the other being Benny Golson).
Following Sonny Rollins and the Big Brass (Sonny Rollins Brass/Sonny Rollins Trio), Rollins made one more studio album in 1958, Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders, before taking a three-year break from recording. This was a session for Contemporary Records and saw Rollins recording an esoteric mixture of tunes including "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" with a West Coast group made up of pianist Hampton Hawes, guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Manne.
In 1959 he toured Europe for the first time, performing in Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and France.
By 1959, Rollins had become frustrated with what he perceived as his own musical limitations and took the first – and most famous – of his musical sabbaticals. While living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he ventured to the pedestrian walkway of the Williamsburg Bridge to practice, in order to avoid disturbing a neighboring expectant mother. Today, a fifteen-story apartment building named "The Rollins" stands on the Grand Street site where he lived. Almost every day from the summer of 1959 through the end of 1961, Rollins practiced on the bridge, next to the subway tracks. Rollins admitted that he would often practice for 15 or 16 hours a day, no matter what season. In the summer of 1961, the journalist Ralph Berton happened to pass by the saxophonist on the bridge one day and published an article in Metronome magazine about the occurrence. During this period, Rollins became a dedicated practitioner of yoga. Rollins ended his sabbatical in November 1961. He later said "I could have probably spent the rest of my life just going up on the bridge. I realized, no, I have to get back into the real world." In 2016, a campaign was initiated that seeks to have the bridge renamed in Rollins's honor.
In November 1961, Rollins returned to the jazz scene with a residency at the Jazz Gallery in Greenwich Village; in March, 1962, he appeared on Ralph Gleason's television series Jazz Casual. During the 1960s, he lived on Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York.
In 1968, he was the subject of a television documentary (in the series Creative Persons), directed by Dick Fontaine, entitled Who is Sonny Rollins?
In 1969, Rollins took another two-year sabbatical from public performance. During this hiatus period, he visited Jamaica for the first time and spent several months studying yoga, meditation, and Eastern philosophies at an ashram in Powai, India, a district of Mumbai.
He returned from his second sabbatical with a performance in Kongsberg, Norway, in 1971. Reviewing a March 1972 performance at New York's Village Vanguard night club, The New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett wrote that Rollins "had changed again. He had become a whirlwind. His runs roared, and there were jarring staccato passages and furious double-time spurts. He seemed to be shouting and gesticulating on his horn, as if he were waving his audience into battle." The same year, he released Next Album and moved to Germantown, New York. Also in 1972, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in composition.
In 1974, Rollins added jazz bagpiper Rufus Harley to his band; the group was filmed performing live at Ronnie Scott's in London. For most of this period Rollins was recorded by producer Orrin Keepnews for Milestone Records (the compilation Silver City: A Celebration of 25 Years on Milestone contains a selection from these years). In 1978 he, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Al Foster toured together as the Milestone Jazzstars. In June of that year he joined many other major jazz artists in a performance for President Jimmy Carter on the South Lawn of the White House.
It was also during this period that Rollins' passion for unaccompanied saxophone solos came to the forefront. In 1979 he played unaccompanied on The Tonight Show and in 1985 he released The Solo Album, recorded live at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also frequently played long, extemporaneous unaccompanied cadenzas during performances with his band; a prime example is his introduction to the tune "Autumn Nocturne" on the 1978 album Don't Stop the Carnival.
By the 1980s, Rollins had stopped playing small nightclubs and was appearing mainly in concert halls or outdoor arenas; through the late 1990s he occasionally performed at large New York rock clubs such as Tramps and The Bottom Line. He added (uncredited) sax improvisations to three tracks by the Rolling Stones for their 1981 album Tattoo You, including the single, "Waiting on a Friend" and the long jam "Slave". That November, he led a saxophone masterclass on French television. In 1983, he was honored as a "Jazz Master" by the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1986, documentary filmmaker Robert Mugge released a film titled Saxophone Colossus. It featured two Rollins performances: a quintet concert at Opus 40 in upstate New York and a performance with the Yomiuri Shimbun Orchestra in Japan of his Concerto for Saxophone and Symphony, a work composed in collaboration with the Finnish pianist and composer Heikki Sarmanto.
In 1993, the Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives opened at the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1997, he was voted "Jazz Artist of the Year" in the Down Beat magazine critics' poll. The following year, Rollins, a dedicated advocate of environmentalism, released an album entitled Global Warming.
Around 2000, Rollins began recording many of his live performances; since then, he has archived recordings of over two hundred and fifty concerts. To date, four albums have been released from these archives on Doxy Records and Okeh Records: Road Shows, Vol. 1; Road Shows, Vol. 2 (with four tracks documenting his 80th birthday concert, which included Rollins's first ever recorded appearance with Ornette Coleman on the twenty-minute "Sonnymoon for Two"); Road Shows, Vol. 3; and Holding the Stage, released in April 2016.
Rollins won a 2001 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for This Is What I Do (2000). On September 11, 2001, the 71-year-old Rollins, who lived several blocks away, heard the World Trade Center collapse, and was forced to evacuate his Greenwich Street apartment, with only his saxophone in hand. Although he was shaken, he traveled to Boston five days later to play a concert at the Berklee School of Music. The live recording of that performance was released on CD in 2005 as Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert, which won the 2006 Grammy for Jazz Instrumental Solo for Rollins' performance of "Why Was I Born?"
Rollins was presented with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2004; that year also saw the death of his wife, Lucille.
In 2006, Rollins went on to complete a Down Beat Readers Poll triple win for: "Jazzman of the Year", "#1 Tenor Sax Player", and "Recording of the Year" for the CD Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert. The band that year featured his nephew, trombonist Clifton Anderson, and included bassist Cranshaw, pianist Stephen Scott, percussionist Kimati Dinizulu, and drummer Perry Wilson.
In 2007, recordings from a 1965 residency at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club were released by the Harkit label as Live in London; they offer a very different picture of Rollins' playing from the studio albums of the period. (These are unauthorized releases, and Rollins has responded by "bootlegging" them himself and releasing them on his website.)
During these years, Rollins regularly toured worldwide, playing major venues throughout Europe, South America, the Far East, and Australasia; he is estimated to have sometimes earned as much as $100,000 per performance. On September 18, 2007, he performed at Carnegie Hall in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of his first performance there. Appearing with him were Anderson (trombone), Bobby Broom (guitar), Cranshaw (bass), Dinizulu (percussion), Roy Haynes (drums) and Christian McBride (bass).
Sonny Rollins was among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
In 2010 Rollins was awarded the National Medal of Arts and the Edward MacDowell Medal; in the fall of the same year he celebrated his 80th birthday with a concert at New York's Beacon Theatre that included a guest appearance by Ornette Coleman. The following year he was the subject of another documentary by Dick Fontaine, entitled Beyond the Notes.
In 2013, Rollins moved to Woodstock, New York. That spring, he made a guest television appearance on The Simpsons in "Whiskey Business" and received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the Juilliard School in New York City.
In 2014 he was the subject of a Dutch television documentary entitled Sonny Rollins-Morgen Speel ik Beter. He made a public appearance in June of that year introducing saxophonist Ornette Coleman at an all-star tribute performance to Coleman in Brooklyn, NY. In October 2015, he received the Jazz Foundation of America's lifetime achievement award.
He named his 1962 "comeback" album The Bridge at the start of a contract with RCA Victor. Produced by George Avakian, the disc was recorded with a quartet featuring guitarist Jim Hall, Ben Riley on drums, and bassist Bob Cranshaw. This became one of Rollins's best-selling records; in 2015 it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Currently, Sonny Rollins is 91 years, 0 months and 15 days old. Sonny Rollins will celebrate 92nd birthday on a Wednesday 7th of September 2022.
Find out about Sonny Rollins birthday activities in timeline view here.