Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Sonny Rollins (Happy Birthday!)
Walter Theodore "Sonny" Rollins (September 7, 1930) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist, widely recognized as one of the most important and influential jazz musicians. In a six-decade career, he has recorded at least sixty albums as leader, and a number of his compositions, including "St. Thomas", "Oleo", "Doxy", "Pent-Up House", and "Airegin", have become jazz standards.
Rollins was born in New York City to parents from the United States Virgin Islands. Rollins started as a pianist, changed to alto saxophone, and finally switched to tenor in 1946.
After graduating from high school in 1947, Rollins began performing professionally; he made his first recordings in early 1949 as a sideman with the bebop singer Babs Gonzales (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 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.
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. Rollins initially feared sobriety would impair his musicianship, but then went on to greater success.
In 2013, Rollins moved to Woodstock, New York. That spring, he made a guest television appearance on The Simpsons and received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the Juilliard School in New York City.
In October 2015, he received the Jazz Foundation of America's lifetime achievement award.
Rollins has not performed in public since 2012.