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Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins

[rol-inz]
Rollins, Sonny (Theodore Walter Rollins), 1930-, African-American tenor saxophonist and composer, b. New York City. A master of jazz improvisation, Rollins is known for his rich tone, emotional depth, and inventive use of melody, harmony, and rhythm. From 1949 to 1954 he was a sideman on recordings by such bop luminaries as Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and Charlie Parker and also composed such now-classic tunes as "Doxy," "Oleo," and "Airegin." Rollins has since led numerous jazz groups and made some 100 recordings; among the most acclaimed are Saxophone Colossus (1956), Freedom Suite (1958), and the Alfie film score (1966). He also has toured extensively, often fusing bop with elements of rock, soul, and other musical styles in ensemble performances, and impressing audiences with his complex improvised solos.

See studies by C. Blancq (1983), E. Nisenson (2000), P. N. Wilson (2001), and R. Palmer (rev. ed. 2004).

orig. Theodore Walter Rollins

(born Sept. 7, 1930, New York, N.Y., U.S.) U.S. jazz saxophonist and composer. Rollins was inspired by Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker and performed with many musicians in the late 1940s, including Miles Davis. A member of the Clifford BrownMax Roach quintet in 1955–57, he later formed his own groups. Rollins's robust tone and technical dexterity are matched with athletic endurance in the service of the logical evolution of ideas in his solos.

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Theodore Walter "Sonny" Rollins (born September 7 1930 in New York City) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist. Rollins' long, prolific career began at the age of 11, and he was playing with piano legend Thelonious Monk before reaching the age of 20. Rollins is still touring and recording today, having outlived most of his contemporaries such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Max Roach, and Art Blakey, all performers with whom he recorded.

Biography

Early days

While Rollins was born in New York City, his parents were born in the United States Virgin Islands. Rollins received his first saxophone at age 13.

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 and Kenny Drew. He was first recorded in 1949 with Babs Gonzales — in the same year he recorded with J. J. Johnson and Bud Powell. In his recordings through 1954, he played with performers such as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.

In 1950, Rollins was arrested for armed robbery and given a sentence of three years. He spent 10 months in Rikers Island jail before he was released on parole. In 1952 he was arrested for violating the terms of his parole by using heroin. Rollins was assigned to what was then the USA's only assistance for drug addicts: "Narco", "The Farm", aka Federal Medical Center, Lexington. There he was a volunteer for a then experimental Methadone therapy and was able to 'kick'- or endure an opiate withdrawal. Rollins himself initially feared sobriety would impair his musicianship- until he went on to greater success.

As a saxophonist he had initially been attracted to the jump and R&B sounds of performers like Louis Jordan, but soon became drawn into the mainstream tenor saxophone tradition. Joachim Berendt has described this tradition as sitting between the two poles of the strong sonority of Coleman Hawkins and the light flexible phrasing of Lester Young, which did so much to inspire the fleet improvisation of be-bop in the 1950s. Rollins drew the two threads together as a fluid post-bop improviser with a sound as strong and resonant as any since Hawkins himself.

Miles, Monk and the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet

Rollins began to make a name for himself as he recorded with the Modern Jazz Quartet and with Miles Davis in 1951, recording his composition Oleo among others. In 1953 and 1954 he worked with Thelonious Monk, recording Thelonius Monk and Sonny Rollins, which includes "I Want to Be Happy" and "Friday the 13th". Rollins then joined the Clifford BrownMax Roach quintet in 1955 (recordings made by this group have been released as Sonny Rollins Plus 4 and Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street; Rollins also plays on half of More Study in Brown), and after Brown's death in 1956 worked mainly as a leader. By this time he had begun his career with Prestige Records, which released many of his best-known albums, although at the height of his career in the 1950s Rollins was also recording regularly for Blue Note, Riverside and the Los Angeles label Contemporary.

Saxophone Colossus

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 Max Roach. This was Rollins' third 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").

In 1956 he also recorded Tenor Madness, using Miles Davis' 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 in Davis' group.

At the end of the year Rollins recorded a set for Blue Note with Donald Byrd on trumpet, Wynton Kelly on piano, Gene Ramey on bass, and Rollins' long-term collaborator Max Roach on drums. This has been released as Sonny Rollins Volume One (the superstar session Volume Two recorded the following year has consistently outsold it).

The piano-less trio

In 1957 he pioneered the use of bass and drums (without piano) as accompaniment for his saxophone solos. This texture came to be known as "strolling". Two early tenor/bass/drums trio recordings are Way Out West (Contemporary, 1957) and A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1957). Throughout his career, Rollins used the technique, even backing bass and drum solos with sax licks. Way Out West was so named because it included songs such as "Wagon Wheels" and "I'm an Old Cowhand" and was recorded for a Californian label with Los Angeles based drummer Shelly Manne. The Village Vanguard CD consists of two sets, a matinee with bassist Donald Bailey and drummer Pete LaRoca and then the evening set with Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones.

By this time, Rollins had become well-known for taking relatively banal or unconventional material (such as "There's No Business Like Show Business" on Work Time, "I'm an Old Cowhand", and later "Sweet Leilani" on the Grammy-winning CD This Is What I Do) and turning it into a vehicle for improvisation. He also is quite well-known as a composer; a number of his tunes (including "St. Thomas", "Doxy", "Oleo" and "Airegin") have become standards.

1957's Newk's Time saw him working with a piano again, in this case Wynton Kelly but one of the most highly regarded tracks is a saxophone/drum duet (Surrey with the Fringe on Top with Philly Joe Jones). Also that year he recorded for Blue Note with a star-studded line-up of JJ Johnson on trombone, Horace Silver or Thelonious Monk on piano and drummer Art Blakey (released as Sonny Rollins Volume 2).

The Freedom Suite

In 1958 Rollins recorded another landmark piece for saxophone, bass and drums trio: The Freedom Suite. His original sleeve notes said: "How ironic that the Negro, who more than any other people can claim America's culture as his own, is being persecuted and repressed; that the Negro, who has exemplified the humanities in his very existence, is being rewarded with inhumanity."

The title track is a 19-minute improvised bluesy suite, much of it interaction between Rollins' saxophone and the drums of Max Roach, some of it very tense. However the album was not all politics, the other side was hard bop workouts of popular show tunes. The LP was only briefly available in its original form, before the record company repackaged it as Shadow Waltz, the title of another piece on the record. The bassist was Oscar Pettiford.

Finally in 1958 he made one more studio album before taking a three-year break from recording. This was another session for Los Angeles based 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 Shelly Manne.

First sabbatical

By 1959, Rollins was frustrated with what he perceived as his own musical limitations and took the first – and most famous – of his musical sabbaticals. To spare a neighboring expectant mother the sound of his practice routine, Rollins ventured to the Williamsburg Bridge to practice. Upon his return to the jazz scene in 1962 he named his "comeback" album The Bridge at the start of a contract with RCA Records, recorded with a quartet featuring guitarist Jim Hall and still no piano. The rhythm section was Ben Riley on drums and bassist Bob Cranshaw. This became one of Rollins' best-selling records.

The contract with RCA lasted until 1964 and saw Rollins remain one of the most adventurous musicians around. Each album he recorded differed radically from the previous one. Rollins explored Latin rhythms on What's New, tackled the avant-garde on Our Man in Jazz, and re-examined standards on Now's the Time.

He then provided the soundtrack to the 1966 version of Alfie. His 1965 residency at Ronnie Scott's legendary jazz club has recently emerged on CD as Live in London, a series of releases from the Harkit label; they offer a very different picture of his 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.)

Second sabbatical

Frustrated once again, Rollins took his most recent sabbatical to study yoga, meditation, and Eastern philosophies. When he returned in 1972, it was clear that he had become enamored with R&B, pop, and funk rhythms. His bands throughout the 1970s and 1980s featured electric guitar, electric bass, and usually more pop- or funk-oriented drummers. For most of this period he recorded for Milestone Records and the compilation Silver City: A Celebration of 25 Years on Milestone contains a selection from these years. The 70s and 80s were not all disco though and it was during this period that Rollins' passion for unaccompanied saxophone solos came to the forefront. In 1985 he released his Solo Album.

Rollins' most famous appearance to rock music fans was his appearance on the 1981 Rolling Stones album Tattoo You, on which he plays saxophone on "Slave", "Waiting on a Friend" and possibly "Neighbours".

In addition to the Stones album, Rollins has another link to rock fans. The Blue Note cover art to his Sonny Rollins Vol. 2 set was replicated by Joe Jackson for his 1984 A&M album Body and Soul, which prominently features sax and trumpet.

2001 to present

Critics such as Gary Giddins and Stanley Crouch have noted the disparity between Sonny Rollins the recording artist, and Sonny Rollins the concert artist. In a May 2005 New Yorker profile, Crouch wrote of Rollins the concert artist:

"Over and over, decade after decade, from the late seventies through the eighties and nineties, there he is, Sonny Rollins, the saxophone colossus, playing somewhere in the world, some afternoon or some eight o'clock somewhere, pursuing the combination of emotion, memory, thought, and aesthetic design with a command that allows him to achieve spontaneous grandiloquence. With its brass body, its pearl-button keys, its mouthpiece, and its cane reed, the horn becomes the vessel for the epic of Rollins' talent and the undimmed power and lore of his jazz ancestors."

Rollins was presented with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2004, but sadly that year also saw the death of his wife Lucille.

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 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, "Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert", which won the 2006 Grammy for Jazz Instrumental Solo for Sonny's solo on the song "Why Was I Born?". He won an earlier Grammy for the CD "This Is What I Do". 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 was led by his nephew, trombonist Clifton Anderson, and included bassist Bob Cranshaw, pianist Stephen Scott, percussionist Kimati Dinizuli, and drummer Perry Wilson.

After a highly successful Japanese tour Rollins returned to the recording studio for the first time in five years to record the Grammy-nominated CD Sonny, Please (2006). The CD title is derived from one of his late wife's favorite phrases. The album was released on Rollins' own label, Doxy Records, following his departure from Milestone Records after many years and was produced by Clifton Anderson. Rollins' band at this time, and on this album, included Bob Cranshaw, guitarist Bobby Broom, drummer Steve Jordan and Kimati Dinizulu.

The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota officially named 31 October 2006 after Rollins in honor of his achievements and contributions to the world of jazz. In 2007 he received the prestigious Polar Music Prize in Stockholm, Sweden, together with Steve Reich and Colby College award Rollins a Doctor of Music, honoris causa, for his contributions to jazz music.

Rollins performed at Carnegie Hall on September 18, 2007, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his first performance there.

Discography

Date Album Notes Label
1951
Sonny Rollins Quartet
debut
Prestige Records
1951
Sonny and the Stars
-
Prestige Records
1951
Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet
Rollins' session with the MJQ (4 tracks) and more from other sessions including Rollins, MJQ bassist Percy Heath and various others
Prestige Records
1951
Mambo Jazz
w/ Sonny Stitt, Kenny Graham & Joe Holiday
Prestige Records
1954
Moving Out
-
Prestige Records
1954
Sonny Rollins Plays Jazz Classics
-
Prestige Records
1954
Sonny Rollins Quintet
-
Prestige Records
1955
Taking Care of Business
-
Prestige Records
1955
Work Time
-
Prestige Records
1956
Saxophone Colossus
w Max Roach, includes "St Thomas"
Prestige Records
1956
Sonny Rollins Plus Four
The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet
Prestige Records
1956
Three Giants
-
Prestige Records
1956
Tenor Madness
with Miles Davis backing musicians and (on one track) John Coltrane
Prestige Records
1956
Rollins Plays for Bird
tribute to Charlie Parker, recorded 10th May 1956
Prestige Records
1956
Sonny Boy
tracks from the 12th July 1956 and 10th May 1956 dates
Prestige Records
1956
Tour de Force
recorded 12th July 1956
Prestige Records
1956
Sonny Rollins, Vol. 1
-
Blue Note Records
1957
Alternate Takes
-
Contemporary Records
1957
Way Out West
piano-less trio w Ray Brown and Shelly Manne
Contemporary Records
1957
Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2
a line-up of stars including Monk, Art Blakey, Horace Silver and JJ Johnson
Blue Note Records
1957
Wail March
-
Blue Note Records
1957
Sonny's Time
-
Jazzland Records
1956
The Sound of Sonny
w pianist Sonny Clark
Riverside Records
1957
Newk's Time
Wynton Kelly on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.
Blue Note Records
1957
Night at the Village Vanguard
2 live sets of sax/bass/drum trios, Elvin Jones on drums
Blue Note Records
1957
Sonny Rollins Plays/Jimmy Cleveland Plays
w/ Jimmy Cleveland
Period Records
1957
European Concerts
-
Bandstand Records
1957
Sonny Side Up
Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins
Verve Records
1957
Dizzy Gillespie Duets with Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt
more tracks from the Sonny Side Up sessions
Verve Records
1958
Freedom Suite
with Oscar Pettiford on bass and Max Roach on drums
Riverside Records
1958
Shadow Waltz
-
Jazzland Records
1958
Sonny Rollins and the Big Brass
-
Verve Records
1958
Brass & Trio
-
Verve Records
1958
Quartet
-
Verve Records
1958
Sonny Rollins at Music Inn, Teddy Edward's at Falcon's Lair
w/ Teddy Edwards
Metrojazz
1958
Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders
with West Coast musicians Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly Manne
Contemporary Records
1959
In Stockholm (1959)
-
Dragon Records
1959
Aix-En-Provence
-
Royal Jazz Records
1959
Saxes in Stereo
-
Riverside Records
1962
The Bridge
his return from hiding, with guitarist Jim Hall, Bob Cranshaw on bass,and Ben Riley on drums
Bluebird Records
1962
The Quartets featuring Jim Hall
w/ Jim Hall
Bluebird Records
1962
What's New?
-
Bluebird Records
1962
Alternatives
-
Bluebird Records
1962
On the Outside
-
Bluebird Records
1962
Our Man in Jazz
avant-garde jazz with Ornette Coleman sidemen Don Cherry and Billy Higgins
RCA Victor
1963
Sonny Meets Hawk!
duets with tenor saxist Coleman Hawkins and pianist Paul Bley
RCA Records
1963
All the Things You Are
-
Bluebird Records
1963
Stuttgart
-
Jazz Anthology
1963
Live In paris
-
Magnetic Records
1964
Now's The Time
Thad Jones on trumpet, Herbie Hancock on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass,and Roy McCurdy on drums
RCA Victor
1964
Sonny Rollins & Co. 1964
-
Bluebird Records
1964
Three in Jazz
-
RCA Records
1964
The Standard Sonny Rollins
-
RCA Records|-
1966
Alfie
The soundtrack to the Michael Caine film, but definitely a jazz record
Impulse
1966
Sonny Rollins On Impulse
-
Impulse
1966
East Broadway Run Down
with John Coltrane sidemen Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones
Impulse
1978
Don't Stop the Carnival
Live with an electric group including Billy Cobham and trumpeter Donald Byrd
1985
The Solo Album
Live at the Museum of Modern Art
Milestone
1986
G-Man
-
Milestone
1996
+3
-
Milestone
1998
Global Warming
-
Milestone
2000
This Is What I Do
Milestone
2001
Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert
Live in Boston, four days after 9/11
2006
Sonny Please
Emarcy/Doxy Records

Films

  • Saxophone Colossus (1986). Directed by Robert Mugge.
  • EPK for Sonny Please
  • Soundtrack for the classic sixties film Alfie composed by Rollins. The album of this name was an American recording with arrangements by Oliver Nelson.
  • The Sonny Rollins Podcast
  • 50th Anniversay Concert Video
  • Thelonious and Theodore

References

Further reading

  • Blancq, Charles. (1983). Sonny Rollins: The journey of a jazzman. Boston: Twayne.
  • Nisenson, Eric (2000). Open Sky, Sonny Rollins and his world of Improvisation. Da Capo Books: Printing Press.

External links

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