The first bebop album I ever bought was Sonny Stitt with Bud Powell and J.J. Johnson, a 1950 release that remains one of my favorite all-time recordings. Seconds after I heard Stitt rip into "Fine And Dandy" I was completely smitten. Sure Stitt borrowed a great deal from Charlie Parker, but he was an immensely talented musician who eventually developed his own distinctive sound, particularly on tenor.
Stitt recorded nearly 100 albums before he died at age 58, but his recorded legacy is uneven. Alcohol was a problem in his life, and he hated to linger in the studio. Hence, many of his recordings sound ill-conceived or rushed. Nevertheless, the man was such a huge talent that some of his lesser-regarded albums are still special to me.
Best of The Rest compiles material from five of eight albums that Stitt recorded for the Muse label in the mid-'70s to early '80s, just prior to his death. (He passed away in 1982.) The folks at 32 Jazz did a great job culling the best cuts from those albums, and they've furnished us with a very nice collection that is particularly strong on ballads. Stitt appears in quartet format with piano, drums and bass on 10 of these 12 tracks. He plays alto on eight cuts, tenor on four.
Best of the Rest proves that Sonny Stitt was an incredible musician right up until the end. His playing on up-tempo numbers doesn't show the same vitality that he displayed during his youth, but if anything, Stitt grew more soulful on ballads. The man had less than two months to live when he recorded songs such as "At Last" and "As Time Goes By," although at the time he didn't know he had cancer. These are some of Stitt's final performances, and the music is eerily sentimental. You can't help but be moved by his beautiful interpretations of "I'll Walk Alone," "It Might As Well Be Spring," "The Good Life" and other standards.
Excellent support is provided by Roy Brooks (drums), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Walter Davis (piano), Bill Hardman (trumpet), Duke Jordan (piano), George Duvivier (bass), Barry Harris (piano), Billy Higgins (drums), Sam Jones (bass), and Leroy Williams (drums).
No offense to Kenny G fans, but it puzzles me that the G-man is so popular when a massive talent like Sonny Stitt is only appreciated by a relative handful of hardcore jazz fanatics. If you want to hear a real artist blow his saxophone with grace and emotion, check out Sonny Stitt's Best of the Rest.