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Sonny Rollins

Sonny RollinsAKA Theodore Walter Rollins

Born: 7-Sep-1930
Birthplace: Harlem, NY

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Jazz Musician

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Tenor sax master

Raised in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Harlem, Theodore "Sonny" Rollins picked up his interest in music from an older brother, motivating him to begin a study of the piano at the age of 9. A switch was made to alto saxophone in his early teens, and a couple of years later the influence of established Harlem player Coleman Hawkins brought about a permanent move to tenor sax. By this time Rollins and several of his peers had been swept up in the emerging bebop movement; a period was spent performing at dances with a high school band, but before long the young saxophonist had achieved a level of skill that allowed him to work alongside the professional musicians that inspired him. In 1948 he found a mentor in the form of pianist Thelonious Monk, and within a year was recording as a sideman for jazz luminaries such as Bud Powell.

Beginning in the early fifties, Rollins began a number of productive musical associations -- most notably as a member of Miles Davis' band, with whom he recorded a series of albums for Prestige Records. Subsequent work for the same label included sessions with Monk and The Modern Jazz Quartet. It was with the latter group that he initiated his career as a bandleader, releasing his first effort Sonny Rollins with the MJQ in 1951. A short hiatus from music was taken in the mid-fifties, during which Rollins signed into rehab to resolve some of his chemical issues; upon his return to action in 1955 he began a two year tenure in a quintet with drummer Max Roach, while continuing to work with his own group (which also often included Roach).

In 1959 Rollins made another retreat from public performance, this time as a result of dissatisfaction with both the music business and his own development. For two years he dedicated his time to honing his abilities, frequently practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge (a link between Manhattan and Brooklyn over the East River). This routine inspired his next release, 1962's The Bridge -- one of the most highly regarded in his extensive catalogue. A productive relationship with RCA followed, as well as a soundtrack for the film Alfie in 1966 on the Impulse! label.

A third hiatus was taken between 1968 and 1971, with Rollins journeying to Japan and India to explore eastern religions. His musical output during the 70s displayed the influence of the more mainstream genres of pop and R&B, but his abilities as a soloist never lost their edge, and eventually these pop leanings would be replaced by an interest in Caribbean music. Continuous musical activity has been maintained throughout subsequent decades, with numerous recordings of his live performances materializing on different Fantasy Records-affiliated labels.

Father: Walter Rollins
Mother: Valborg Solomon
Wife: Dawn Finney (m. 1956, div.)
Wife: Lucille Pearson (manager, m. 1959)

    Academy of Achievement (2006)
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences 2010
    Grammy Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group (2001)
    NEA Jazz Master 1983
    Armed Robbery 1950
    Violating Parole 1952
    U.S. Narcotic Farm
    Risk Factors: Heroin, Yoga

    A Great Day in Harlem (27-Sep-1994) · Himself

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