Sonny Stitt

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Sonny Stitt, a quintessential bop saxophonist.

Edward (Sonny) Stitt (19241982) was an American jazz saxophonist. He was a quintessential saxophonist of the bebop idiom. He was also one of the most prolific saxophonists, recording over 100 records in his lifetime. He was nicknamed by jazz critic Dan Morgenstern, the "Lone Wolf", due to his assidiuous, relentless touring and his devotion to jazz.

Life and Works

Sonny was born in Boston, Massachusetts on February 2, 1924. His earliest recordings were from 1945, with Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie. He had also experienced playing in some swing bands, though he mainly played in bop bands.

Sonny played alto saxophone in Billy Eckstine's big band alongside future bop pioneers Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons from 1945 until 1949, when he started to play tenor saxophone more frequently. Later on, he notably played with Gene Ammons and Bud Powell.

Stitt, when playing tenor saxophone, seemed to break free from some of the criticism that he was apeing jazz genius Charlie Parker's style. When alto saxophonist Gene Quill was criticised for playing too similar to Parker once by a jazz writer he retorted, "You try imitating Charlie Parker!" Indeed, Sonny began to develop a far more distinctive sound on tenor. He played with other bop jazzers Bud Powell and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, a fellow tenor with a distinctly tough tone in comparison to Sonny, in the 1950s and recorded several albums for the burgeoning Prestige Records label, and others for Argo, Verve & Roost, Stitt's playing is said to be at its zenith on these now rare records. Sonny experimented with Afro-Cuban jazz in the late 1950s, and the results can be heard on his recordings for Roost and Verve, on which he teamed up with Thad Jones and Chick Corea for Latin versions of such standards as "Autumn Leaves."

Stitt would record with Miles Davis briefly in 1960, on the record Live at Stockholm, alongside Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Cobb. However, Miles fired Sonny because of the bad drinking habit he had developed, and replaced him with fellow tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. Stitt, later in the 1960s, paid homage to one of his influences, Charlie Parker, on the seminal cut Stitt Plays Bird, which features Jim Hall on guitar. Sonny would venture into soul jazz, and he recorded with fellow tenor great Booker Ervin in 1964 on the enjoyable Soul People album. Sonny would also record with Duke Ellington alumnus Paul Gonsalves during the 1960's.

In the 1970s, Stitt slowed his recording output, though not by much and, in 1972, he produced another classic, Tune Up, which was and still is regarded by many jazz critics, such as Scott Yanow, as his definitive record. Indeed, his fiery and ebullient soloing is quite reminiscent of his earlier playing.

Stitt, to his credit, never slowed down, joining the Giants of Jazz on some albums for the Mercury label, and recording sessions for Cobblestone and other labels. In 1982, Stitt suffered a heart attack, and he passed away on July 22.

Although his playing was at first heavily inspired by Charlie Parker and Lester Young, Stitt eventually developed his own style, one which influenced John Coltrane. Sonny was especially effective with blues and with ballad pieces such as Skylark.

Quotation

  • "Stitt's throwaways are better than most musician's urgent statements. No musician has said more about the pure pleasure of jazz" - Chris Fujiwara, The Boston Phoenix commenting on Stitt's playing.


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