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Sonny Stitt

Edward "Sonny" Stitt 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 the "Lone Wolf" by jazz critic Dan Morgenstern, due to his relentless touring and his devotion to jazz.

Stitt was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. Stitt had a musical background; his father taught music, his brother was a classically trained pianist, and his mother was a piano teacher. 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. Stitt featured in Tiny Bradshaw's big band in the early forties.

Stitt 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 spent time in a Lexington prison between 1948-49 on account of selling narcotics.

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, Stitt began to develop a far more distinctive sound on tenor. He played with other bop musicians Bud Powell and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, a fellow tenor with a distinctly tough tone in comparison to Stitt, in the 1950s and recorded several albums for the burgeoning Prestige Records label as well as for Argo, Verve and Roost. Stitt's playing is said to be at its zenith on these now rare records. Stitt 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 joined Miles Davis briefly in 1960, and his sole performance with the 1960 quintet is on the record Live at Stockholm, which featured Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers. However, Miles fired him due to the excessive 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 main influences, Charlie Parker, on the seminal cut "Stitt Plays Bird", which features Jim Hall on guitar. He recorded a number of memorable records with his friend and fellow saxophonist Gene Ammons. The records recorded by these two saxophonists are regarded by many as some of both Ammons and Stitt's best work, thus the Ammons/Stitt partnership went down in posterity of the best duelling partnerships in jazz, alongside Zoot Sims & Al Cohn, and Johnny Griffin with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Stitt would venture into soul jazz, and he recorded with fellow tenor great Booker Ervin in 1964 on the enjoyable Soul People album. Stitt would also record with Duke Ellington alumnus Paul Gonsalves during the 1960's.

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Radio & Podcasts

Sonny Stitt, Eugene Chadbourne and More

Read "Sonny Stitt, Eugene Chadbourne and More" reviewed by Jerome Wilson


This episode covers a broad range of jazz from Sonny Stitt in full live cry to Eugene Chadbourne playing Eric Dolphy. In between those poles are Don Byron, Dizzy Gillespie, Sara Caswell, and a lot more. Playlist Henry Threadgill Sextett “I Can't Wait Till I Get Home" from The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air (Mosaic) 00:00 Coleman Hawkins “I'm Beginning to See the Light" from Swingville Original Jazz Classics Sampler (Swingville) 00:58 Dizzy ...

Album Review

Sonny Stitt: Boppin’ in Baltimore Live at the Left Bank

Read "Boppin’ in Baltimore Live at the Left Bank" reviewed by Alberto Bazzurro


L'11 novembre 1973 alla Famous Ballroom di Baltimora il quartetto di Sonny Stitt, fresco reduce dai fasti dei Giants of Jazz (Gillespie, Monk, Winding, Blakey, McKibbon) e certamente in stato di grazia (non aveva del resto ancora cinquant'anni pur essendo già un veterano, per qualcuno addirittura un sorpassato), tenne un concerto ricco di fuoco e invenzioni a getto continuo che oggi, grazie a Jazz Detective, trova posto in un doppio album (CD o LP) comprensivo di ampio libretto di accompagnamento ...

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Profile

The Early Years of Sonny Stitt in Saginaw, Michigan

Read "The Early Years of Sonny Stitt in Saginaw, Michigan" reviewed by Dustin Mallory


As one of most recorded saxophonists of his generation, Sonny Stitt made more than 100 albums under his own name. He also performed as a sideman with the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Blakey. Despite the breadth of recorded work he left behind, Sonny Stitt's upbringing in Saginaw, Michigan is less well-documented. The basic facts of his birth have been widely circulated: Edward “Sonny" Stitt was born Edward Boatner Jr., the son of a Massachusetts concert singer/composer ...

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Album Review

Sonny Stitt: Don't Call Me Bird!

Read "Don't Call Me Bird!" reviewed by Samuel Chell


Absolute Distribution, a Spanish consortium of labels, has done it again, following up last year's welcome single-disc reissue (at least outside the U.S.) of Stitt's 1970s Cobblestone sessions, Tune-Up! + Constellation, with two 1959 West Coast dates for Verve featuring Stitt on alto with a crack California rhythm section. Even though a first-time reissue, the disc is scarce domestically, but the musical content and production values make it well worth the search. A listener familiar with Stitt's tenor duel with ...

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Multiple Reviews

The Prodigious and Prolific Sonny Stitt: 16 New Releases for 2007 (and still counting!)

Read "The Prodigious and Prolific Sonny Stitt: 16 New Releases for 2007 (and still counting!)" reviewed by Samuel Chell


“You can't do no more than has already been done. Remember a man named Art Tatum; now, who can play any more than that? ...You ain't supposed to play over people's heads. You're trying to give a message to people, and make it as simple as possible for the average man." The quote is by a paradoxical reactionary who, like Tatum, could improvise on a tune and make you think you'd heard it. Only after 20-30 more listenings ...

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Extended Analysis

Sonny Stitt: Quadromania/One O'Clock Jump

Read "Sonny Stitt: Quadromania/One O'Clock Jump" reviewed by Samuel Chell


Sonny Stitt Quadromania: One O'Clock Jump Membran Records 2006

Regarded by many musicians as the prototypal, or “most perfect," saxophonist, Sonny Stitt recorded some 150 sessions under his own name. These four discs in German company Membran's Quadromania series will, with the possible exception of some recorded tenor battles 1950-52 under Gene Ammons' name, take care of most listeners' needs from late 1946 to early 1954. There are close to four hours of music ...

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Album Review

Sonny Stitt: Stitt

Read "Stitt" reviewed by George Kanzler


Are ideas floating out there to be had by anyone? Or do they emanate exclusively from specific individuals? And how do they apply to the creation and development of bebop? Sonny Stitt is at the heart of this conundrum. As an alto saxophonist, he always fell under the shadow of Charlie Parker and was often accused of being a Bird- clone. Yet evidence suggests he was developing his own early bebop style concurrent with Parker, before he ever heard Bird. ...

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Recording

Backgrounder: Sonny Stitt's Night Crawler

Backgrounder: Sonny Stitt's Night Crawler

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

When I was collecting Sonny Stitt albums as a kid in the early 1970s, my purchases divided into three categories: not bad, meh and perfection. Back then, there was no internet. Instead, I listened religiously to jazz FM radio stations and entered favorites in a small notebook that fit in my back pocket. Everyone I knew had one. Then you hunted for the ones on your list and took chances on others that either came highly recommended or looked good. ...

Recording

Backgrounder: Sonny Stitt - Tune-Up!

Backgrounder: Sonny Stitt - Tune-Up!

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Perhaps the high points of Joe Fields's Cobblestone label were a pair of albums by Sonny Stitt released in 1972—Tune-Up! and Constellation. Both were produced by Don Schlitten. On Tunre-Up!, Stitt played alto and tenor saxophone and was accompanied by Barry Harris on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Alan Dawson on drums. What made this album (and Constellation) special was Stitt's commanding speed, clean lines and bebop fluidity. I remember buying both at Sam Goody in Manhattan that year ...

Video / DVD

Backgrounder: Sensual Sound of Sonny Stitt

Backgrounder: Sensual Sound of Sonny Stitt

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

On March 6 and 7 of 1961, arranger-conductor Ralph Burns assembled a top orchestra in New York, a rhythm section and saxophonist Sonny Stitt for an album that would be called The Sensual Sound of Sonny Stitt. I'm not sure what month in 1961 producer Creed Taylor arrived at Verve to become the label's recording chief, but this one may have already been in the can, since Creed's signature isn't on the back cover. Stitt plays alto and tenor saxophones, ...

Music Industry

Sonny Stitt, Shirley Scott and Walter Bishop Jr.

Sonny Stitt, Shirley Scott and Walter Bishop Jr.

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Baltimore's Left Bank Jazz Society was formed in 1964. It's claim to fame was promoting more than 800 jazz concerts at the city's Famous Ballroom at 1717 North Charles Street. Nearly every major jazz artist who came through the city was booked by the Society into the Ballroom, its interior modeled after New York's Roseland Ballroom. Most of the jazz shows initially were held on Sundays at 5 p.m., probably because it was the only evening when the space wasn't ...

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Video / DVD

Sonny Stitt: 10 Great Organ Intros

Sonny Stitt: 10 Great Organ Intros

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Sonny Stitt loved organ intros. The bigger and more dramatic the better, with plenty of keyboard articulation and suspense. When the organ opener was played just right, it came off like a groovy fanfare that set up his entry on tenor or alto saxophone. To celebrate this sound, I pulled 10 of my favorite organ openers from Stitt's many albums:  Here's Don Patterson opening Long Ago and Far Away on Boss Tenors in Orbit in 1962, with Stitt playing first ...

Recording

Backgrounder: Sonny Stitt Plays

Backgrounder: Sonny Stitt Plays

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Some of the finest blowing by saxophonist Sonny Stitt can be found on Roost Records. Several years back, Mosaic released a box set of Stitt's complete Roost recordings, and it's still one of my favorites. Among the albums in that box was Sonny Stitt Plays. Recorded in December 1955, the album featured Sonny Stitt on alto and tenor saxophones, Hank Jones on piano, Freddie Green on guitar, Wendell Marshall on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. As part of my ...

Video / DVD

Video: Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, 1971

Video: Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, 1971

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Yesterday, I found two outstanding YouTube clips that went up in November. Though Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt recorded extensively together in the late 1940s and '50s, these clips feature Ammons and Stitt separately in 1971. In June, Just Jazz, a TV show on WTTW, a UHF public broadcasting station in Chicago, welcomed the Gene Ammons Sextet. The show was part of a 10-part series of televised jazz performances. The sextet featured Ammons (ts,varitone), King Kolax (tp), George Freeman (g), ...

Video / DVD

Sonny Stitt and Oscar Peterson

Sonny Stitt and Oscar Peterson

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

I love Oscar Peterson's playing. I'm just never crazy about his tempos. As the leader on recording sessions with his trio or quartet, Peterson tended to take songs excruciatingly slow or erratically fast. I'm not sure why Verve and Pablo producer Norman Granz never bothered to mention this to him over a dinner or from the studio control booth. Only a handful of Peterson leadership albums are just right throughout. A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra (1959), West Side Story ...

Video / DVD

Sonny Stitt's Ballads (1950-'51)

Sonny Stitt's Ballads (1950-'51)

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Between 1949 and 1952, Sonny Stitt recorded for Prestige Records. His playing was sensational—on tenor, alto and baritone saxophones. Of particular note during this period were his ballads. Here are nine of them: Here's Ain't Misbehavin', with Kenny Drew (p), Tommy Potter (b) and Art Blakey (d), in February 1950... Here's Mean to Me, from the same session... Here's Stairway to the Stars, from the same session... Here's Count Every Star, with Duke Jordan (p) Eugene Wright (b) Wesley Landers ...

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Recording

Sonny Stitt: Tune-Up!

Sonny Stitt: Tune-Up!

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Back in 1971, when I began to listen steadily to jazz, I was nuts about an album that had come out that year by Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons called You Talk That Talk. I was a freshman in high school and had taken up the tenor saxophone, an instrument that was much cooler to tote around in its case in school hallways than to stand alone in a room and practice scales. Back then, Stitt was for me. He ...

Dennis Mitcheltree
saxophone, tenor
Lynda Murray
saxophone, alto
Dave Wilson
saxophone
Jorge Sylvester
saxophone, alto
Fred Haas
saxophone
Jamey Arent
guitar
Charlie Jennison
saxophone, alto
Sam Watts
piano
Don Hanson
saxophone
Matt Olson
saxophone, tenor
Tom Bekeny
mandolin
David Byrd
saxophone, alto
Nat Steele
vibraphone
Sarah James
vocals
Ulli Juenemann
saxophone, alto
Richie Love
saxophone
Tim Boniface
saxophone
Kamil Abt
guitar
Glen Manby
saxophone, alto
Alex Clarke
saxophone
Justin Chart
saxophone, alto
Matthew Storie
saxophone
Aaron Johnson
saxophone, alto
Olivia Hughart
saxophone, alto
Tristan Voitcu
saxophone, baritone
Jeremy Terry
saxophone
Evan Gongora
saxophone, baritone

Photos

Music

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Boppin’ in...

Jazz Detective
2023

buy

Boppin' In Baltimore:...

Jazz Detective
2023

buy

Live in Paris 1960

Return To Analog
2020

buy

Sonny Stitt Vol.2...

Reel To Reel Music Company
2019

buy

Don't Call Me Bird!

Fresh Sound Records
2008

buy

Videos

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