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Sonny Rollins

One of the greatest tenor-saxophonists of all time, Sonny Rollins ranks at the top along with Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and John Coltrane. Rollins has been a jazz giant for 60 years and is always capable of playing marathon solos full of constant creative invention. Born in New York City in 1930, he started on piano, switched to alto and permanently settled on the tenor in 1946. Rollins caught the tail-end of the bebop era. He made his recording debut with singer Babs Gonzalez in 1949 and then held his own on important sessions with J.J. Johnson and Bud Powell (opposite Fats Navarro) later that year. Miles Davis noticed Rollins early on, always considered him one of his favorite saxophonists, and used him whenever he could, including on several significant record dates in the 1950s. Rollins also recorded with Thelonious Monk in 1953. He spent his first period outside of music, retooling himself before returning to join the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet in late 1955. He stayed with Roach’s group until 1957 and was a leader from then on. The 1955-58 period found Rollins recording one classic after another for such labels as Prestige, Riverside, Blue Note and Contemporary. He introduced such future jazz standards during the 1950s as “St. Thomas,” “Doxy,” “Airegin” and “Oleo,” matched wits with John Coltrane on “Tenor Madness,” recorded with Monk (Brilliant Corners) and Dizzy Gillespie, and created such brilliant albums as A Night at the Village Vanguard, Saxophone Colossus, Way Out West, Freedom Suite and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders. It was a shock when Rollins decided to drop out of music in 1959, but when he returned in 1961, leading a pianoless quartet with Jim Hall and recording The Bridge, he was still at his peak. During the 1960s, Rollins’ recordings for RCA and Impulse tended to be freer than before and he was well aware of Ornette Coleman’s innovations, sometimes using some of Coleman’s sidemen in his own group. He retired for a third time in 1968, returning in 1971. Rollins adopted a grittier tone, recorded many albums for Milestone and most recently his Doxy label, and has maintained his position as one of jazz’s greatest improvisers.