Sonny Stitt

A true master of the bebop vocabulary, Sonny Stitt (1924-1982) sounded so close to Charlie Parker on alto at times that he was almost written off early in his career. When he began doubling on tenor and evolving as a player, however, his individuality and brilliance became more obvious, and few could beat him at playing bebop.

Stitt had his first major job in 1943 playing with Tiny Bradshaw’s orchestra. As a member of the Billy Eckstine big band in 1945 and Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra the following year, he was a perfect fill-in for Charlie Parker. He began recording as a leader in 1946 and, by the time he debuted for Prestige in 1949, Stitt was also playing some very effective tenor.

Throughout his career, Sonny Stitt recorded a countless number of sessions as a leader, sometimes with pickup rhythm sections and on other occasions with all-star groups. Most of his Prestige sessions, which are available on 12 CDs, are with very notable players. Sonny Stitt with Bud Powell and J.J. Johnson has the saxophonist during 1949-1950 playing in a quintet with trombonist J.J. Johnson and pianist John Lewis and in a particularly exciting quartet with the great bop pianist Bud Powell. Prestige First Sessions, Vol. 2 mostly has Stitt on tenor from 1950 to 1955 on 24 boppish numbers, showing that he was in his early prime. Kaleidoscope, from the same era, features Stitt in trios, sextets, and septets with a highlight being two rare numbers on which he plays baritone.

Other Sonny Stitt Prestige sets include dates with organ groups (Stitt Meets Brother Jack, Soul Classics, and Night Letter), a collaboration with tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin (Soul People), meetings with Stitt’s favorite organist Don Patterson (Low Flame, The Boss Men, and Brothers-4), an outing with fellow altoist Charles McPherson (Legends of Acid Jazz), and experiments with the electrified Varitone sax (Legends of Acid Jazz Vol. 2—Low Flame).

Sonny Stitt stuck to bebop throughout his very productive career, which ended in 1982.