Walter Theodore "Sonny" Rollins (born September 7, 1930) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist who is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential jazz musicians. In a seven-decade career, he has recorded over sixty albums as a leader. A number of his compositions, including "St. Thomas", "Oleo", "Doxy", "Pent-Up House", and "Airegin", have become jazz standards. Rollins has been called "the greatest living improviser" and the "Saxophone Colossus".
Rollins was born in New York City to parents from the United States Virgin Islands. The youngest of three siblings, he grew up in central Harlem and on Sugar Hill, receiving his first alto saxophone at the age of seven or eight. He attended Edward W. Stitt Junior High School and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem. Rollins started as a pianist, changed to alto saxophone, and finally switched to tenor in 1946. During his high school years, he played in a band with other future jazz legends Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew, and Art Taylor.
As a saxophonist he had initially been attracted to the jump and R&B sounds of performers like Louis Jordan, but soon became drawn into the mainstream tenor saxophone tradition. The German critic Joachim Berendt described this tradition as sitting between the two poles of the strong sonority of Coleman Hawkins and the light flexible phrasing of Lester Young, which did so much to inspire the fleet improvisation of bebop in the 1950s. Other tenor saxophone influences include Ben Webster and Don Byas. By his mid-teens, Rollins became heavily influenced by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. During his high school years, he was mentored by the pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, often rehearsing at Monk's apartment.
Rollins has played, at various times, a Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone and a Buescher Aristocrat. During the 1970s he recorded on soprano saxophone for the album Easy Living. His preferred mouthpieces are made by Otto Link and Berg Larsen. He uses Frederick Hemke medium reeds.