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Sonny Stitt: The Champ

C. Michael Bailey By

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Midline Re-releases. 32 Jazz is a label specializing in the re-release of jazz recordings at a midline ($7.99 to $9.99) price. 32 Jazz's releases are readily identifiable by their unique black, jewel cases that are made from a lighter, softer, more durable plastic than the traditional jewel case. These babies will never crack or shatter. That is a refreshing and welcome advance in a mundane yet important means of both marketing and protecting compact discs.

32 Jazz has a growing catalog populated by jazz, blues, R & B, and Pop as well as the occasional easy listening release. Now in their fourth year of existence, 32 Records the brainchild of Grammy award-winning producer Joel Dorn and Musician/Lawyer Robert Miller, specializes in the acquisition and re-release of vintage recordings form all four corners of the musical map. At this writing, Dorn and Miller have over 1,000 titles cued for release over the next several years. Where was I? Hey, Man! Sonny Stitt is the subject, 32 Jazz is the '58 Cadillac delivering him.

Stitt's Bits. Edward "Sonny" Stitt was born February 2, 1924 in Boston and died on July 22, 1982 in Washington, DC. He recorded from the late 1940s until a month prior to his death. Sonny Stitt's The Champ was originally released on the Muse Jazz label (Muse MCD 5429). It contains music recorded by Stitt on April 18, 1973, during a period when Stitt was enjoying a certain commercial success. Make no mistake, this music is vintage Bebop, from start to finish. It begins with Bebop maven Dizzy's "The Champ" and ends with what might be considered an opening shot into Hard Bop, "Walkin'". Stitt performs more on tenor than alto and is capable supported by the superb Duke Jordan on piano and Sam Jones on bass, Joe Newman on trumpet, and Roy Brooks on drums.

Grounded Saxophone. Art Pepper, in the conclusion to his autobiography Straight Life recounts a jam session at San Francisco's Blackhawk with Stitt, who was in town as part of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. Stitt asks Pepper if he can sit in, and Pepper says: "'Yea, Great' We both play alto, which is...It really makes it a contest. But sonny is one of those guys, that's the thing with him. It's a communion..." that is how Sonny Stitt comes off in his performances. Often considered a Parker clone, I think there are a lot worse things to be in jazz. Stitt's performance ethic is flawlessly honest. On The Champ, he plays with a determination, confidence and care of an expert craftsman in his art. His language and style are vertically steeped in the Bebop tradition of which he is a master.

Anthems. Stitt takes jazz anthems and arranges them to suit himself to great effect. He employs the original Parker/Gillespie introduction to "All the Things You Are" except the trumpet and alto play the same line. What follows is 4' 11" of superb bop. The disc's closer, "Walkin'" boasts an arrangement and performance second only to Miles'. He has a beautiful tenor tone on the ballad, "Sweet and Lovely" and an aggressive bite on the title cut.

Joe Newman. Trumpeter Joe Newman is cited by many critics as the single drawback to an otherwise fine recording. Newman may not be flashy sparkler bright on the Fourth of July, but he is capable and does keep it between the ditches. Jordan, Jones and Brooks are all impeccable as one would expect. All in all, this is a very good disc. I great introductory example to an important saxophonist at the top of his form.

Track Listing: The Champ, Sweet and Lovely, The Midget, The Eternal Triangle, All The Things You Are, Walkin'.

Personnel: Sonny Stitt: Alto and Tenor Saxophones; Joen Newman: Trumpet; Duke Jordan: Piano; Sam Jones: Bass; Roy Brooks: Drums

Title: The Champ | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: 32 Records

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