Sonny Stitt

Edward “Sonny” Stitt, born February 2, 1924 and died July 22, 1982. He was an American jazz saxophonist who played in the hard bop/bebop style. He also recorded over 100 albums during his lifetime, making him one of the most well-documented saxophonists his generation. Dan Morgenstern, a jazz critic, gave him the nickname “Lone Wolf” in recognition of his tireless touring and dedication to jazz. He is widely considered to be Charlie Parker’s greatest disciple. His playing was influenced heavily by Charlie Parker and Lester Young at first, but Stitt developed his own style which greatly influenced John Coltrane. Stitt excelled with blues and ballads such as “Skylark”. Stitt was born in Boston (Massachusetts) and grew up near Saginaw, Michigan. Stitt was musically inclined. His father was a college music professor and his brother was classically trained as a pianist. His mother was also a piano teacher. Charlie Parker was the first person Stitt met in 1943. As he later remembered, they discovered a remarkable similarity between their styles that was not due to Stitt’s imitation but also because of Stitt’s influence. Stitt’s improvisations were melodic/less dissonant that those of Parker. Stitt made his first recordings in 1945 with Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie. Although he had played in swing bands, he preferred to play in bop groups. In the early 40s, Stitt was a member of Tiny Bradshaw’s big band. In Dizzy Gillespie’s 1945 band, Charlie Parker was replaced by Stitt. From 1945 to 1956, Stitt was an alto saxophone player in Billy Eckstine’s big band with future bop leaders Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, and others. He switched to tenor saxophone to avoid being called a Charlie Parker emulator. He was a frequent player with Bud Powell and Gene Ammons later on. Between 1948 and 1949, Stitt was in Lexington prison for selling narcotics. Stitt’s tenor saxophone playing seemed to free him from the criticisms that he was copying Charlie Parker’s style. However, it is evident in the case with Ammons that the greater instrument was a factor. Stitt developed a distinct sound on the tenor. In the 1950s, Stitt played with Bud Powell and Eddie “Lockjaw”, a fellow tenor who had a more stern tone than Stitt. He recorded sides for Prestige Records as well as albums for Argo Verve, Roost, and Verve. In the 1950s, Stitt tried out Afro-Cuban Jazz. The results can be heard on his recordings on Roost and Verve. He teamed up with Chick Corea and Thad Jones to record Latin versions of standards such as “Autumn Leaves”. Stitt briefly joined Miles Davis in 1960. However, recordings of Davis’ quintet are only available in live settings during the 1960 tour. There are concerts in Paris and Manchester that can be purchased commercially. Also, there are a few concerts on the album Live at Stockholm (Dragon), which includes sets by John Coltrane’s earlier quintet. Miles fired Stitt because of his drinking habits and replaced him by Hank Mobley, a fellow tenor-saxophonist. Later in the 1960s Stitt paid tribute to Charlie Parker on the album Stitt plays Bird. This album features Jim Hall playing guitar, and was recorded at Newport in 1964 along with other bebop musicians, including J.J. Johnson. His friendship with Gene Ammons, a fellow saxophonist, was interrupted by Ammons’ imprisonment for narcotics possession. He recorded many memorable records. Many consider the records of these two saxophonists to be some of Ammons’ best work. The Ammons/Stitt duo was also regarded as one of jazz’s most memorable duelling partners, along with Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw”. Stitt was also interested in soul jazz and recorded the Soul People album with Booker Ervin, a fellow tenor saxophonist. In 1963, Stitt recorded for Impulse with Duke Ellington alumnus Paul Gonsalves. On the 1963 Salt And Pepper album. He also made frequent appearances at Ronnie Scott’s in London during that period. A 1964 live encounter with Ronnie Scott, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, was recorded. Another in 1966, with resident guitarist Ernest Ranglin, and British tenor saxophonist Dick Morrissey, was also recorded. Stitt was among the first jazz musicians who tried an electric saxophone (it was called a Varitone), as can be heard on the 1967 albums What’s New and Parallel-A-Stitt. Stitt’s recording output slowed in the 1970s. In 1972, Tune Up was released, which is still considered by jazz critics like Scott Yanow to be his best record. His fiery, ebullient soloing is very reminiscent of his previous playing. Varitone also released a second album, Just The Way it Was – Live at The Left Bank in 1971. It was released in 2000. Stitt was part of the all-star band Giants of Jazz (which also included Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie), and made albums for Atlantic Records as well as Concord Records and Emarcy Records. His last recordings were made by Stitt in Japan. Stitt died in July 1982 from a heart attack.

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