Legendary jazz saxophonist Walter Theodore “Sonny” Rollins is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential jazz musicians of all time. Over the course of seven-decades, Rollins has recorded over sixty albums.
Rollins was born on September 7, 1930, in New York City to parents from the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was the youngest of three children. Rollins grew up in central Harlem and on Sugar Hill. By the age of seven or eight, he had already received his first saxophone.
While in high school, Rollins played in a band with other jazz legends including Art Taylor, Kenny Drew, and Jackie McLean. After graduating high school in 1947, he pursued a professional music career. His first recordings were in 1949 as a sideman with bebop singer Babs Gonzales.
Rollins was arrested for armed robbery in 1950 and spent ten months in Rikers Island jail before being released on parole; in 1952, he was arrested again for violating the terms of his parole by using heroin. Between 1951 and 1953, he recorded with Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. His big break came in 1954 when he recorded what would be his famous compositions “Oleo,” “Airegin,” and “Doxy.”
By 1955, Rollins had entered the Federal Medical Center where he underwent treatment for his drug addiction. He was able to break his heroin habit and went on to have great music 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.
In 1968, he was the subject of a television documentary, directed by Dick Fontaine, entitled Who is Sonny Rollins? During the 1970s and 1980s, he also became drawn to R&B, pop, and funk rhythms. Over the years, Rollins has toured worldwide, playing at major venues throughout the United States, Europe and South America.