Sonny Rollins

American jazz saxophonist (New York,1930 - )

Sonny Rollins is one of the last giants of the jazz still alive. On top of his 60-year-career, he became a master of improvisation on the tenor saxophone. Influenced both by his Caribbean roots and by his artistic birth in the middle of an explosive bebop,his music conveys an permanent joy.

Theodore Walter « Sonny » Rollins grew up in Harlem in a family of Caribbean origins. Evolving with the music of Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan and influenced by the great sound of Coleman Hawkins, he started to play the saxophone (first alto then tenor). While the revolution of bebop, he worked with Charlie Parker and the man who would become his mentor: Thelonious Monk. At the age of 20, he was already mixing with Bud Powell, J.J. Johnson and Miles Davis. During the 1950's, he was considered as one of the most important musicians of the jazz scene.

Yet, fame would cause him great pains. The spiral of drugs, the uncompromising wish of work excellence and a mystical quest led him to retire from the public life at three occasion, in 1955, 1959 and 1966. Each tome, he would come back transcended and filled with innovative inspirations. After his first come back, he played with Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and when he came back in 1962, he worked besides Jim Hall, Paul Bley, Don Cherry et Coleman Hawkins.

Following Lucille's advice, his wife and agent, he signed with Milestone in 1972 and played with musicians like Jack DeJohnette, Stanley Clarke or McCoy Tyner. During the 1980's and 1990's, he seemed to have found some stability and recorded almost every year a new album. Unfortunately, it was at the detriment of his inspiration. In 2004, after the death of his wife, he founded his own label, Doxy Records and launched his website. Those last years have been the ones of some kind of renewal, of a new youth, especially on stage where he still gives, as he always did, marathon gigs, one of his speciality since... 50 years.

Official website

Six landmark dates in the life of Sonny Rollins
 • 1951: played on the album Dig of Miles Davis
 • 1963: recorded the album Sonny meets Hawk with his idol Coleman Hawkins
 • 1981: played on the album Tattoo of the Rolling Stones
 • 2000: Grammy Award for his album This is what I do
 • 2006: admission to the Academy of Achievement in the presence of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg
 • 2011: President Obama offered him the Medal of Arts at the White House

Radio France documentation biography