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Biography of Sonny Rollins

Rollins established himself as the outstanding jazz saxophonist between Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and a leading figure in the hard-bop style. The prevailing interpretation of his method of improvisation derives from Schuller’s "Thematic Analysis" of Rollins’ celebrated solo on Blue7 (1956); other writers, accepting and expanding on Schuller’s insights, have even declared thematic improvisation to be Rollins’ greatest contribution to jazz.

Sonny Rollins (Walter Theodore) he first learned piano, studied alto saxophone from the age of 11,and took up the tenor instrument in 1946. In high school he led a group with Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew, and Art Taylor. He rehearsed with Thelonious Monk for several months in 1948, and from 1949 to 1954 recorded internationally with a number of leading bop musicians and groups, including J.J. Johnson, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Art Blakely, Monk and the modern jazz quartet. His most frequent associate during these early years was Miles Davis, with whom he performed in clubs from 1949 and recorded from 1951. In one of these recording sessions with Davis, in 1954, he introduced three compositions of his own which later became jazz standards: Airegin, Doxy, and Oleo. In `1955, while overcoming his dependence on drugs, he worked in Chicago and, in December, joined the Clifford Brown - Max Roach Quintet . He remained with Roach until May 1957,then performed briefly in Davis’ quintet; thereafter, however, he has led his own groups.

Rollins’ first album using a trio of saxophones, double bass, and drums offered a solution to his long-standing difficulties with incompatible pianists, and exemplified his witty ability to improvise on hackneyed material (Wagon wheels, I’m an old cowhand). "It could happen to you" (also 1957) was the first in a long series of unaccompanied solo recordings, and the "Freedom Suite" (1958) foreshadowed the political stances in jazz in the 1960s.

During the years 1956 to 1958 Rollins was widely regarded as the most talented and innovated tenor saxophonist in jazz. Nevertheless, he was discontented: he could not find compatible sideman, saw shortcomings in his own playing, and suffered from poor health. For these reasons he voluntarily with drew from public life from August, 1959-Nov.1961. During this period of retirement his habit of practicing on the Wiliamsburg Bridge in New York became legendary.

Rollins has continued to experiment, recording on soprano sax in 1972 and on Lyricon in 1979,However, touring the USA in 1978 as a member of the Milestone jazz stars (with Mccoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Al Foster) he demonstrated that, as an individual, he remained essentially true to the bop tradition, an aspect of his playing that was again apparent in an acclaimed solo performances at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1985. Except for a six month hiatus in 1983, after he collapsed from exhaustion, Rollins has remained active through the late 1980s, touring the USA, Europe, and Japan and recording a fusion bop and soul music with his quintet.

In essence, Rollins has adhered to the bop practice of varying and elaborating a large repertory of formulas and, in a wide range of material, shows a rhythmic imagination, harmonic subtlety, and freedom of design that have perhaps been surpassed only by Charlie Parker.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sonny Rollins
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