Sonny Rollins

Born in 1930 in New York City, American tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins began his musical career as a young teenager in the early 1940s. Initially influenced by the jump and rhythm and blues sounds of musicians like Louis Jordan, Rollins soon developed a more progressive individual style that utilized the strong sonority of Coleman Hawkins and the lighter flexible phrasing of Lester Young.

Drawing these two styles together, Rollins established his reputation as a fluid post-bop improviser with a strong resonant sound. Recognized by piano legend Thelonious Monk when Rollins was still in his late teens, Rollins would prove to be one of the greatest improvisers of the hard bop era, eventually recording alongside contemporaries such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Art Blakely and Max Roach, among others.

Frustrated with the business side of the music industry, Rollins began a sabbatical in the late 1960s, where he stopped performing in public and traveled to Japan and India to pursue studies in yoga, meditation, and spiritual philosophy. When he returned to America and began recording and performing again in 1972, he began embracing modern instrumentation, including electric guitar and bass, and his new music now had distinct elements of R&B, funk and pop rhythms thrown into the mix.

This transition into an electric context was controversial at the time but like Miles Davis, Rollins ignored the critics and his traditionalist fan base to pursue his own direction. Rollins would outlive many of his predecessors and continues recording and performing up to the present day, becoming one of the most prolific and influential jazz musicians of his generation.

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