Sonny Rollins

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Sonny Rollins at Jazz à Juan (2005)

Sonny Rollins (born September 7, 1930 in New York City , actually Theodore Walter Rollins ) is an American tenor saxophonist and composer of modern jazz . Sonny Rollins is one of the most influential jazz saxophonists; he released “improvisation from the clutches of the topic. With strength and wit, he invented endless chains of associations, which culminated in solo concerts in the mid-1960s. "

life and work

Rollins' parents come from the Caribbean Virgin Islands , and as a boy his mother often sang songs from her home country to him. He grew up in Harlem , and when one of his uncles showed him a saxophone for the first time at the age of seven, his career aspirations were clear. But first he began playing the piano at the age of nine, following the example of his brother; at the age of 14 he switched to the alto saxophone and came to the tenor saxophone in 1946 . He gained his first experience at the Harlem jazz club Luckey's Rendezvous . In 1949 he recorded his first record alongside Babs Gonzales . In the same year, recordings with JJ Johnson , Bud Powell and Art Blakey followed . In the early days of his career, Sonny Rollins worked most often with Miles Davis , with whom he had also recorded since 1951. In January 1951, "I Know," the first single under Rollins 'name, was recorded on Miles Davis' first session for Prestige ( Miles Davis and Horns ).

In 1954 he composed three Rollins compositions for a Davis recording that were to become jazz standards : "Airegin", " Doxy " and " Oleo ". In addition, recordings were made with the pianist Thelonious Monk , who strongly influenced him. Like many jazz musicians in the 1950s, Sonny Rollins was a drug addict . After the withdrawal in 1955 he played as the successor to Harold Land until 1956 in the quintet with Clifford Brown and Max Roach .

After Brown's death in 1956 and a brief guest appearance in the Miles Davis Quintet, he subsequently appeared mostly under his own name, often in the then unusual trio without a harmony instrument (today a standard line-up for which he was a pioneer). 1956 appeared with the album Saxophone Colossus one of his most important recordings, among others with the Calypso St. Thomas (a tribute to the Caribbean origin of his mother), which also became the jazz standard. In the following years he also wrote compositions with Blues Waltz, Valse Hot, Pent Up House, Blue Seven and Pauls Pal , which are often interpreted by other musicians. 1956 also saw the only studio encounter with John Coltrane ( Tenor Madness ) when they improvised over a blues in B for twelve minutes.

Sonny Rollins (Stockholm 2009)

He recorded his 19-minute Freedom Suite in 1958, which was an extensive social commentary for him. In 1959 he had a quartet in San Francisco with Scott LaFaro , Elmo Hope and Lennie McBrowne , which Harold Land then took over. In the same year he also appeared in a trio with Pete LaRoca and Henry Grimes in Germany, attended the Sanremo Jazz Festival and performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Chicago. Since 1956 he has recorded "fourteen brilliant albums" within just three years. From the mid-1950s, Sonny Rollins was considered the most talented young saxophonist. In 1957 he won the corresponding critics' poll of the Down Beat jazz magazine and for some time was considered the most promising tenor saxophonist alongside John Coltrane .

In the period between 1959 and 1961 he surprisingly withdrew from the public eye, as he said he had achieved too much in too short a time. He gave up smoking and alcohol, read a lot in his Manhattan apartment , became a Rosicrucian and even tried to "relearn" to play the saxophone. Since that was too loud for the neighbors, he often practiced on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City, which leads to Brooklyn , where he also occasionally met with Steve Lacy . Rollins said of Whitney Ballet about his experiences that "laid the foundations for his life as an unattainable improviser" :

“You stand up there over the whole world. You can look down and there is the skyline, the water, the bay. It's a beautiful panorama. You can play as loud as you want up there. And you get into thinking. This splendor gives you a whole new perspective. "

The first recording after his comeback (at the charity concert for the widow of Booker Little in 1961) he named The Bridge in reference to it . Until 1966 he also worked with Jim Hall (with whom he had a quartet), Don Cherry (who replaced Hall in his quartet in 1963) and Paul Bley . In 1963 he traveled to Japan, in 1965 to the Berlin Jazz Festival and to London. In 1968 he traveled a. a. to India ; in the same year he performed with Mary Lou Williams in Copenhagen . He withdrew again from 1969, this time until 1971. Rollins had been under contract with the Fantasy Records label since the early 1970s : his records from the 1970s and 1980s, where he was often based on the sound of the fusion wave , were qualitative often fail to tie in with his earlier recordings. In the 1970s he was touring regularly with his own quintet (from 1972) and with the Milestone All Stars ( Ron Carter , Al Foster , McCoy Tyner , from 1978), also various times in Europe, as well as in the 1980s. In 1974 he played with Rufus Harley at the Berlin Jazz Days .

Since the 1990s he has established himself as one of the outstanding soloists of classical modern jazz and is considered by many to be “the last great event in jazz history”. His style of play is powerful, sometimes almost coarse, but always very melodic and interspersed with laconic humor (he was already considered a joker in school). He has continued to release recordings that have received critical acclaim and performs regularly. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 , Rollins was evacuated from his apartment in downtown Manhattan; Under the influence of these experiences, he recorded the album Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert , for which he received the Grammy in 2006 .

In 2004, his wife and manager Lucille, who had taken care of his record deals and performances for decades, died. After a period of grief, Rollins started his own production company, Doxy Records . A global distributor organizes the sale of his recordings. He gave his last concert in 2012; two years later he stopped playing the saxophone due to a lung disease.

Sonny Rollins (2007)


His nickname is Newk , and he is also addressed by his real first name Theodore .

Pete Wilson made the film Rollins and Robert Mugge Saxophone Colossus about him in 1968 (with a 1986 performance of Rollins' Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra , Rollins himself has his say).

Rollins was previously known for his idiosyncratic demeanor, for example, he had the habit of pensively walking through the audience during the solos (exploring the spatial sound) - which, however, also led to falls several times during performances.

Rollins has a high level of self-confidence, which is echoed in the title of one of his most cherished albums and which he recorded in 1956 at the age of 25: “ Saxophone Colossus ”.

St. Thomas is in the soundtrack of the New York film Working Girl by Mike Nichols in 1988 and tenor Madness in The Talented Mr. Ripley by Anthony Minghella from 1999. His Alfie was featured on the soundtrack of the British film The Seducer sends his best regards ( Alfie ) by Lewis Gilbert written in 1966; the Rollins soundtrack was also commercially successful.

Rollins lived in Germantown, New York , on the Hudson River for many decades . Today he lives in Woodstock, New York .

Prizes and awards

In 1983 Rollins was awarded the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship , the highest honor for jazz musicians in the USA. In 2004 he received a Grammy Award for his life's work. In 2007 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize , the “alternative Nobel Prize for Music”, because he has been “one of the most powerful and personal voices in jazz for over 50 years” . In 2009 he was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, 1st Class in Salzburg . In 2010 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . In 2011, Rollins was awarded the Kennedy Prize . On October 22, 2015, the Jazz Foundation of America recognized his life's work with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Sonny Rollins in Newport (2008)

Discography (selection)



“I am sure that jazz is the freest, most radical, most wonderful musical form of expression to make the world beautiful! Precisely because jazz offers you an incredible amount of exuberance, creativity and magic. Jazz takes you further. "

- Sonny Rollins, 2008

Web links

Commons : Sonny Rollins  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Concert reviews

Individual evidence

  1. a b Wolf Kampmann (Ed.), With the assistance of Ekkehard Jost : Reclams Jazzlexikon . Reclam, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-15-010528-5 , p. 445.
  2. Sonny Rollins: "I have a dream" . Die Zeit , June 29, 2006.
  3. a b Michael Fuchs-Gamböck: "It is the most beautiful life that I can imagine" . The new day , November 29, 2008.
  4. Portrait of Luckey's Rendezvous at Big Apple Jazz ( Memento from July 4, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  5. a b c d Andrian Kreye: The Colossus - For the 80th birthday of the tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Süddeutsche Zeitung , September 7, 2010, p. 13.
  6. ^ S. Yanow Jazz on Record - the first 60 years, 1917-1976 . Backbeat Books, San Francisco 2003, 427.
  7. Wolf Kampmann (ed.), With the assistance of Ekkehard Jost: Reclams Jazzlexikon. Reclam, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-15-010528-5 , p. 446.
  8. Christian Broecking : “No time to waste” . Die Zeit, January 26, 2007.
  9. Heinrich Oehmsen: "The giant from Harlem with the rough tone" . Hamburger Abendblatt , November 27, 2008.
  11. ^ Christian Broecking: Jazz is protest music . Jungle World 2004.
  12. Sonny Rollins: Road Shows - Milestone of Jazz (Review (Nordwestradio)) ( Memento from December 26, 2011 in the Internet Archive )