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Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins

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Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

The title of his 1956 album Saxophone Colossus is also an apt description for Sonny Rollins' impact on the jazz scene of the last six decades. Born Walter Theodore Rollins on September 7, 1930 in New York City, he and his siblings were raised in central Harlem, where he began playing music at the age of nine. The piano was his initial instrument of choice, but by high school, Rollins had moved to alto and then tenor saxophone to play with a band that included such fellow future jazz giants as Jackie McLean and Art Taylor. Rollins began performing professional shortly after graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1948, and made his first recordings with an an array of bebop talent, including Fats Navarro, Bud Powell and J.J. Johnson, who recorded his first composition, "Audubon," in 1949. By the early '50s, Rollins was composing, recording and performing as a sideman for many of the giants of bop, including several iterations of the Miles Davis Sextet and Thelonius Monk, as well as a well-regarded tenure with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach quintet in the midpoint of the decade. Rollins began leading his own groups in the early '50s, often teaming with Monk or the Modern Jazz Quartet, before...

The title of his 1956 album Saxophone Colossus is also an apt description for Sonny Rollins' impact on the jazz scene of the last six decades. Born Walter Theodore Rollins on September 7, 1930 in New York City, he and his siblings were raised in central Harlem, where he began playing music at the age of nine. The piano was his initial instrument of choice, but by high school, Rollins had moved to alto and then tenor saxophone to play with a band that included such fellow future jazz giants as Jackie McLean and Art Taylor. Rollins began performing professional shortly after graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1948, and made his first recordings with an an array of bebop talent, including Fats Navarro, Bud Powell and J.J. Johnson, who recorded his first composition, "Audubon," in 1949. By the early '50s, Rollins was composing, recording and performing as a sideman for many of the giants of bop, including several iterations of the Miles Davis Sextet and Thelonius Monk, as well as a well-regarded tenure with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach quintet in the midpoint of the decade. Rollins began leading his own groups in the early '50s, often teaming with Monk or the Modern Jazz Quartet, before issuing his landmark album Saxophone Colossus with Roach in 1956. A slew of follow-up releases, including Tenor Madness (1956), which featured John Coltrane, and his first Blue Note release, Sonny Rollins, Volume One, established him as a star in his own right, while Way Out West (1957), which featured bass and drums but no piano, marked him as an innovator who could draw inspiration from unusual sources - country and western songs, Broadway tunes - and a major influence on such performers as Ornette Coleman. After issuing Freedom Suite (1958) and its nineteen-minute, improvised title track, Rollins took a three-year break from music to study yoga and Zen, among other spiritual subjects; he also began practicing under the Williamsburg Bridge to perfect his technique. Rollins' new improvisational style formed the core of his "comeback" album, The Bridge (1962), which became one of his most popular recordings, and he continued to forge new directions with his next releases, including the Latin-themed What's New? (1962), avant-garde flights with trumpeter Don Cherry on the live LP Our Man in Jazz (1962) and the soundtrack for the 1966 film "Alfie!" before again taking an extended sabbatical. When he returned to music in the early '70s, Rollins was again drawing on an eclectic palette of sounds, from the jazz-funk fusion of the period to pop, R&B and calypso. He also drew acclaim for his lengthy, unaccompanied solos, as epitomized by his 1985 LP The Solo Album, and began playing as part of the Milestone Jazzstars with fellow icons Ron Carter and McCoy Tyner. In the 2000s, his celebrated career was honored with numerous awards and tributes, including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004 and a National Medal of Arts in 2010, but he continued to perform and record at a pace that matched his younger peers until ceasing touring in 2012.

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CAST: (feature film)

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 Great Day in Harlem, A (1995) Himself
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