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.