Sonny Stitt: Just In Case You Forgot How Bad He Really Was

Jim Santella By

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Recorded at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco less than a year before saxophonist Sonny Stitt suffered a fatal heart attack, this 65-minute session includes saxophonists Richie Cole and John Handy, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Herbie Lewis, drummer Billy Higgins, and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. The jam session, billed as a "bebop alto summit," was recorded before an enthusiastic club audience over a two night period and produced by Dr. Herb Wong, but never released. With about half the session spotlighting the leader on both alto and tenor, and with impeccable sound recording, the comfortable session is a welcome surprise, and presents Sonny Stitt in fine performing form.

Jazz critic Dr. Herb Wong produced the 1981 session and provides the liner notes. The opening track, "Dig Dr. Woody," is Stitt's tribute to the dentist who had recently reconstructed the saxophonist's front teeth with a fixed bridge; that dentist was Dr. Woody Wong, brother of Dr. Herb Wong. On "Dig Dr. Woody" and "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes," Stitt works out on tenor accompanied by the veteran rhythm section, and evokes moods ranging from loose and comfortable to quasi-dramatic. Similarly, Stitt sits in the solo spotlight for the ballads "Everything Happens To Me" and "Laura," this time on alto. The saxophonist offers a firm lyrical approach to the ballad, maintaining spirit throughout and seeming to enjoy the opportunity to express.

This "bebop alto summit" approach allows room for solo choruses from each of the member of the ensemble as well as ample three-saxophone interplay. "Star Eyes," "Wee," and "Lover Man" provide space for the alternating soloists. On alto, Stitt, Cole, and Handy exhibit slightly different timbres, in much the same way that singers possess distinctive voices. For "Lover Man," Stitt opens and closes the number, turning it over to Handy, Hutcherson, Walton, and Cole in that order. Each has a lot to say, and again on "Wee" this order of soloing is preserved, except for Walton's piano solo and Higgins' extended drum solo. The medley of ballads affords an opportunity for Stitt, Cole, Hutcherson, Walton, and Handy to accept the feature for a song each. The individual solo work, the ensemble interaction, and their effect on the enthusiastic audience make this a memorable session. Highly Recommended.

Tracks:Dig Dr. Woody; Star Eyes; Everything Happens To Me; The Night Has A Thousand Eyes; Ballad Medley: How Deep Is the Ocean, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, My Foolish Heart, Over The Rainbow, Serenade In Blue; Solo Excerpt; Lover Man; Laura; Wee; Outro.

| Record Label: 32 Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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