Easily one of the most recorded saxophonists in the annals of modern jazz history, saxophonist Sonny Stitt’s catalog is filled with almost equal portions of the inspired and the routine. At his best, he was a melody man who combined a love of Johnny Hodges’ rich sonorities with a bop-inflected tartness akin to that of Charlie Parker. His technical mastery often times though made it very easy for Stitt to coast on autopilot, giving some of his lesser records a glib “blowing session” feel. Although he would often pick up a session or two here and there for various labels, Stitt began a 14-year association with Roost records in 1952, the results of which are compiled for the first time on a nine-disc boxed set bringing together 148 tracks and 15 previously unreleased selections. The quality throughout in presentation and execution is uniformly excellent, making this set one of the best places to start in building a Stitt collection.
The recordings here, which span 1952 to 1965, can roughly be broken down into several distinct categories- big band sessions with Stitt on the front line, piano trios, an organ combo set, and a Latin-tinged affair with a fledgling Chick Corea. As presented on disc one, we get the large ensemble sessions with Johnny Richards and Quincy Jones responsible for the charts. In sound quality and enthusiasm the Jones numbers really shine, with Stitt playing it romantic on “My Funny Valentine” and intense on swing-tinged ditties such as “Love Walked In” and “Lover.” At a medium bounce, “Come Rain Or Come Shine” is quintessential Stitt, bold and melodramatic in sound and resourceful in his choice of notes.
Discs two through seven document Stitt with a variety of piano trios led by such modern giants as Hank Jones, Dolo Coker, and Jimmy Jones. The original album releases include Sonny Stitt Plays, 37 Minutes and 48 Seconds With Sonny Stitt, Sonny Stitt With The New Yorkers, The Saxophones of Sonny Stitt, A Little Bit of Stitt, The Sonny Side of Stitt, Stittsville, Sonny Side Up, and Stitt in Orbit. Roy Haynes is even on hand for a couple of the dates and his crisp accents keep things from dragging. With the repertoire here including standards such as “Red Top,” “Body and Soul,” “Star Eyes” and the like, there’s not much more that need be said except that Stitt can be heard on both alto and tenor and more often than not he’s at the top of his game, despite what on the surface might appear to be just a few more “blowing sessions.”
Three particularly uncommon and vibrant sets fill up the remainder of the discs and each one manages to put Stitt into a new light. For the original 1962 set Feelin’s, our main man makes his first appearance with an organ trio that included Don Patterson, guitarist Paul Weeden, and drummer Billy James. For the next decade or so Stitt would tour and record with this unit, eventually seeing Pat Martino spell Weeden in the guitar chair. “S’posin’” introduces us to a more relaxed Stitt on tenor and while the fast arpeggiated runs are still there, we also hear a style that has mellowed and become more laid-back and less frenetic.
Worth the price of admission alone, 1963’s Stitt Goes Latin was recorded around the same time as another Latin-tinged date the saxophonist cut for Prestige entitled Primitivo Soul. The Roost set is clearly the superior of the two as it boasts a line-up that includes Chick Corea, Thad Jones, Willie Bobo, and Carlos “Patato” Valdes. The tunes are mainly Stitt originals, although the saxophonist offers a tip of the hat to the influential Charlie Parker by including “My Little Suede Shoes.” Finally, there’s 1965’s Sax Expressions and the fiery cast that finds Stitt sparing with pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Ben Tucker, and old standby Roy Haynes. Catch the drummer’s unique intro to “Round Robin,” his drums recorded with just the right presence and notice how Stitt then comes in with a coy statement that just seems to roll off of his tongue.
Although the earliest sessions heard here aren’t of the greatest fidelity, the majority of the discs feature an enhanced sound quality that just can’t be beat. You’ve never heard this stuff sound so good, but then again most of the original albums were issued in small quantities and disappeared quickly so chances are many will be experiencing this music for the first time. A 28-page booklet includes a Stitt bio, a brief history of Roost Records and its founder Teddy Reig, session commentary, and photos from the cameras of Francis Wolff and Chuck Stewart. An essential part of any comprehensive Sonny Stitt collection, this and all Mosaic recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.
Track Listing: 148 performances, including two unissued tunes and 13 alternate takes
Personnel: Sonny Stitt (alto and tenor saxophone) with Hank Jones, Roy Haynes,
Charlie Persip, Quincy Jones, Chick Corea, Don Patterson, and many
Year Released: 2002
| Record Label: Mosaic Records
| Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream