Theodore Walter "Sonny" Rollins (born September 7, 1930 in New York City) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist. Sonny Rollins has had a long, productive career in jazz, beginning his career at the age of 11 and playing with piano legend Thelonious Monk before reaching the age of 20. Rollins is still touring and recording today, having outlived several of his jazz contemporaries such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Art Blakey, all performers with whom he has recorded.
Coltrane had not yet become a major figure and Rollins was the leading modern jazz saxophonist in America.
In 1957 he also pioneered the use of just bass and drums as accompaniment for his saxophone solos, a texture that came to be known as "strolling"; two early recordings in this format are Way Out West (Contemporary, 1957) and A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1957). Throughout his career, Rollins used the technique, even backing bass and drum solos with sax licks (and bass for the drummer or drums for the bass player).
By this time, Rollins had become well-known for taking relatively banal or unconventional material (such as "There's No Business Like Show Business" on Work Time, "I'm an Old Cowhand" on Way Out West, and later "Sweet Leilani" on This Is What I Do) and turning it into a vehicle for improvisation. He is quite well-known as a composer; a number of his tunes (including "St. Thomas", "Doxy", "Oleo" and "Airegin") have become standards.
In 1958 Rollins recorded an extended piece for saxophone, bass and drums: The Freedom Suite. His original sleeve notes made it explicit that the piece was an intervention on the socio-political situation:
"How ironic that the Negro, who more than any other people can claim America's culture as his own, is being persecuted and repressed; that the Negro, who has exemplified the humanities in his very existence, is being rewarded with inhumanity." 
The LP was only briefly available in its original form, before the record company repackaged it as Shadow Waltz, the title of another piece on the record.
By 1959 however, Rollins was frustrated with what he perceived as his own musical limitations and took the first – and most famous – of his musical sabbaticals. To spare a neighboring expectant mother the sound of his practice routine, Rollins ventured to the Williamsburg Bridge to practice. Upon his return to the jazz scene he named his "comeback" album The Bridge at the start of a contract with RCA Records.
Throughout the '60s Rollins remained one of the most adventurous musicians around. Each album he recorded differed radically from the previous one. Rollins explored Latin rhythms on What's New, tackled the avant-garde on Our Man in Jazz, and re-examined standards on Now's the Time. He also provided the soundtrack to the 1966 version of Alfie. His 1965 residency at legendary jazz club Ronnie Scott's has recently emerged on CD as Live in London, a series of releases from the Harkit label; they offer a very different picture of his playing from the studio albums of the period.
Frustrated once again, Rollins took his last (so far) sabbatical to study yoga, meditation, and Eastern philosophies. When he returned in 1972, it was clear that he had become enamored with R&B, pop, and funk rhythms. His bands throughout the '70s and '80s featured electric guitar, electric bass, and usually more pop- or funk-oriented drummers. It was during this period that Rollins' notoriety for unaccompanied saxophone solos came to the forefront. In 1985 he released his Solo Album, though many Rollins fans consider it something of a disappointment compared to his best solo work.
Rollins' most famous appearance to rock music fans was his appearance on the 1981 Rolling Stones album Tattoo You in which he plays saxophone on "Slave" and "Waiting on a Friend" and possibly "Neighbours".
Into the 21st century
Although his recordings in the '70s, '80s, and '90s were not as critically acclaimed as his earlier recordings, he continues to be known for his powerful live performances. Critics such as Gary Giddins and Stanley Crouch have noted the disparity between Sonny Rollins the recording artist, and Sonny Rollins the concert artist. In a May 2005 New Yorker profile, Crouch wrote of Rollins the concert artist:
"Over and over, decade after decade, from the late seventies through the eighties and nineties, there he is, Sonny Rollins, the saxophone colossus, playing somewhere in the world, some afternoon or some eight o'clock somewhere, pursuing the combination of emotion, memory, thought, and aesthetic design with a command that allows him to achieve spontaneous grandiloquence. With its brass body, its pearl-button keys, its mouthpiece, and its cane reed, the horn becomes the vessel for the epic of Rollins' talent and the undimmed power and lore of his jazz ancestors."
On September 11, 2001, Rollins, who lived several blocks away, heard the World Trade Center collapse, and was forced to evacuate his apartment, with only his saxophone in hand. Although he was shaken, he travelled to Boston five days later, to play at Berklee College. That concert was released on CD in 2005,'Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert.
Rollins was presented with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2004.
After a highly successful Japanese tour in late 2005, Rollins returned to the recording studio for the first time in five years to record, "Sonny, Please." At the same time, he launched his own website, and started his own label, Doxy Records.
The city of Minneapolis, MN officially named Tuesday October 31st, 2006 after him in honor of his achievements and contributions to the world of Jazz.