Still active into his 80′s, tenor sax man Sonny Rollins has assumed the mantle of be-bop’s elder statesman – and having successfully kicked a heroin habit in 1955, he’s still here to tell the tales of his departed contemporaries. He was born today in 1930.
Jazz saxophonist Theodore Walter Rollins aka Sonny Rollins was born in New York City, USA. Switching from piano to alto to tenor as a teenager in an attempt to emulate his hero Coleman Hawkins, Sonny rapidly became a familiar face in be-bop circles and recorded sessions with a variety of artists ranging from Art Blakey and Miles Davis to Bud Powell and J.J. Johnson.
Recording with a quintet that included drummer Max Roach and trumpeter Clifford Brown, Sonny’s 1956 album “Saxophone Colossus” followed the death of the latter featured Roach, Tommy Flannagan on piano and Doug Watkins on bass. Quickly finding favour with fans and critics alike, Rollins however was less convinced and told Downbeat Magazine, “I’m not satisfied with anything about my playing. I know what I want. I can hear it. But it will take time and study to do it.”
That dissatisfaction extended to a career hiatus of over two years from 1959 but he returned to playing and his career found a new impetus during the 1970s, with his appearance at the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival. The following years saw various plaudits, honours and awards come his way – including an (uncredited) appearance in the Billboard Top 20 in 1982, after supplying a saxophone interlude on the Rolling Stones single, “Waiting on A Friend.”
Forming his own label – Doxy – the occasion of Sonny’s 80th birthday was marked in typical style, with a live show at New York’s Beacon Theatre in the company of his own band. Joining them for the evening were guests Jim Hall (guitar), Roy Hargrove (trumpet), Christian McBride (bass), Roy Haynes (drum) and saxophonist Ornette Coleman.
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And here’s some footage of Sonny in action: