Sonny Rollins: St Thomas

7 Sep

Sonny Rollins' Here's to the People

Sonny Rollins' 1991 album Here's to the People. Here's to Sonny.

Birthday greetings to octogenarian/saxophonist Sonny Rollins, born Theodore Walter Rollins, who celebrates No. 81 today.

There was certainly a time when it seemed Rollins would never enjoy such longevity or be the elder statesman of jazz — he was arrested at age 20 for armed robbery (three-year sentence), he was addicted to heroin and he was homeless for a time, as Rollins described in Neil Tesser’s story on

But Rollins defied the stereotypes of creative and tortured artists, and did most of his best work — and it is voluminous — after quitting drugs.

“I’m not proud of many things in my life,” Rollins told Tesser, “but I’m proud of that — of defeating the dragon.

 “. . . I was ‘carrying the stick. You know what that means? It means you’re homeless, like a hobo; I was sleeping in parked cars during the winter and all this stuff. I was doing very nefarious things.”

Rollins turned nefarious into virtuous. “Rollins really blossomed after his return from Chicago in 1956,” wrote Ira Gitler on the liner notes to Tour De Force; Chicago is where Rollins told Tesser he went to stop using.

The album Saxophone Colossus in 1956 was a colossus and Newk’s Time introduced his nickname — a cab driver thought Rollins was Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe — and in all, he’s been the leader on more than 50 albums, despite a hiatus in the early 60’s where he gained acclaim for practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York.

From Nat Hentoff’s liner notes to the album Sonny Rollins on Impulse: “In his chapter on Sonny Rollins in Jazz Masters of the Fifties (MacMillan), Joe Goldberg quotes jazzman Steve Lacy: ‘I’ve never seen anyone in love with the tenor saxophone the way Sonny is. He really loves that horn and understands it. He knows everything about it.’ ”

A link below to Rollins and a live version of St. Thomas, which pays tribute to his roots in the U.S. Virgin Islands.



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