Reference Entry

Rollins, Theodore (“Sonny”)

Marian Aguiar

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559
Rollins, Theodore (“Sonny”)

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Theodore Rollins, known as “Sonny,” influenced Jazz during the 1950s with his new approaches to musical form and style, then continued to explore new musical frontiers. Born in New York, New York, Rollins began making music at age nine, playing the piano and alto saxophone. Picking up the tenor saxophone in 1948, he led a group that included Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew, and Art Taylor. In 1949 Rollins made his first recording with pianist Bud Powell. For the next six years, Rollins played professionally alongside Powell and other famous jazz artists such as Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Max Roach, and Art Blakey. He played most frequently with Miles Davis. “Airegin,” “Doxy,” and “Oleo,” songs that Rollins composed and then recorded with Davis in 1954, have become jazz standards.Rollins joined the Max Roach–Clifford Brown quintet in 1955, working in the Rhythm and Blues–influenced tradition of “hard bop.” He made the landmark recording “Valse Hot” in 1956. With “Saxophone Colossus” and “Tenor Madness,” recorded with John Coltrane, Rollins developed a form of jazz “thematic improvisation” form. He led his own group after 1957, fusing jazz with Calypso patterns in works such as “St Thomas.”By the late 1950s, Rollins was well established as a gifted and innovative saxophone player. The 1958 recording “Freedom Suite” marked the beginning of a period during which Rollins sometimes withdrew from the public, although he was sometimes seen practicing on New York's Williamsburg Bridge. Rollins returned to public life in 1961, experimenting with free jazz and later recording the score for the film Alfie (1966). He left the music scene again in 1968 to follow a spiritual path to India.In 1971 Rollins once again began recording and performing, producing such works as “G-Man” (1987) and The Solo Album (1985). More recent releases include Saxophone Colossus and Way Out West (both in 1991) and The Bridge (2003). He continues to perform at clubs in New York City and elsewhere.

Reference Entry.  342 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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