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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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Photos

Music

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Boppin’ in...

Jazz Detective
2023

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Eight Classic Albums

Milestone Records
2012

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Don't Call Me Bird!

Fresh Sound Records
2008

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Move On Over...

Milestone Records
2007

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Sonny Stitt:...

Membran Records
2007

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Stitt's Bits: The...

Prestige Records
2006

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