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Sonny Stitt

Sonny Stitt

American jazz saxophonist
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American jazz saxophonist
Countries United States of America
Occupations Saxophonist Jazz musician
A.K.A. Edward Stitt, Edward Boatner, Jr
Gender male
Birth February 2, 1924 (Boston)
Death July 22, 1982 (Washington, D.C.)
The details
Biography

Edward "Sonny" Stitt (born Edward Boatner, Jr.; February 2, 1924 – July 22, 1982) was an American jazz saxophonist of the bebop/hard bop idiom. He was one of the best-documented saxophonists of his generation, recording more than 100 albums. He was nicknamed the "Lone Wolf" by jazz critic Dan Morgenstern, in reference to his relentless touring and devotion to jazz. Stitt was sometimes viewed as a mere Charlie Parker mimic, especially earlier in his career, but gradually came to develop his own sound and style - particularly when performing on tenor sax.

Early life

Edward Boatner, Jr. was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. He had a musical background: his father, Edward Boatner, was a baritone singer, composer and college music professor; his brother was a classically trained pianist; and his mother was a piano teacher.

Sonny was given up for adoption in 1924 by his father. No one seems to know why Boatner gave his son away, but the child was adopted by the Stitt family, who raised him in Saginaw. He later began calling himself "Sonny". While in high school in Saginaw, Stitt played in the Len Francke Band, a local popular swing band.

In 1943, Stitt first met Charlie Parker, and as he often later recalled, the two men found that their styles had an extraordinary similarity that was partly coincidental and not merely due to Stitt's emulation. Parker is alleged to have remarked, "Well, I'll be damned, you sound just like me", to which Stitt responded: "Well, I can't help the way I sound. It's the only way I know how to play." Kenny Clarke remarked of Stitt's approach: "Even if there had not been a Bird, there would have been a Sonny Stitt".

Stitt had played in some swing bands in the early 1940s and was featured in Tiny Bradshaw's big band in the early forties. He replaced Charlie Parker in Dizzy Gillespie's bopbig band in 1945 and in 1946 made the first recordings under his own name for Savoy Records, which established his bop credentials.

Stitt played alto saxophone in Billy Eckstine's big band alongside future bop pioneers Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons beginning in 1945 when he started to play tenor saxophone more frequently, in order to avoid being referred to as a Charlie Parker imitator. Later on, he played with Gene Ammons and Bud Powell. Stitt spent time at the Federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky, between 1948 and 1949 for selling narcotics.

Stitt, when playing tenor saxophone, seemed to break free from some of the criticism that he was imitating Parker's style, although it appears in the instance with Ammons above that the availability of the larger instrument was a factor. 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 a number of sides for Prestige Records label as well as albums for Argo, Verve and Roost. 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 recordings with Davis' quintet can be found only in live settings on the tour of 1960. Concerts in Manchester and Paris are available commercially and also a number of concerts (which include sets by the earlier quintet with John Coltrane) on the record Live at Stockholm (Dragon), all of which featured Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers. However, Miles fired Stitt due to the excessive drinking habit he had developed, and replaced him with Hank Mobley. Later in the 1960s, Stitt paid homage to one of his main influences, Charlie Parker, on the album Stitt Plays Bird, which features Jim Hall on guitar.

Stitt recorded a number of memorable records with his friend and fellow saxophonist Gene Ammons, interrupted by Ammons' own imprisonment for narcotics possession. 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 as one of the best duelling partnerships in jazz, alongside Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and Johnny Griffin with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Stitt would venture into soul jazz, and he recorded with fellow tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin in 1964 on the Soul People album. Stitt also recorded with Duke Ellington alumnus Paul Gonsalves in 1963 for Impulse! on the Salt And Pepper album in 1963. Around that time he also appeared regularly at Ronnie Scott's in London, a live 1964 encounter with Ronnie Scott, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, eventually surfaced, and another in 1966 with resident guitarist Ernest Ranglin and British tenor saxophonist Dick Morrissey. Stitt was one of the first jazz musicians to experiment with the Selmer Varitone amplification system as heard on the albums What's New in 1966 and Parallel-A-Stitt in 1967.

Later life

In the 1970s, Stitt slowed his recording output slightly, and in 1972, he produced another classic, Tune-Up!, which was and still is regarded by many jazz critics, such as Scott Yanow, as his definitive record. Indeed, his fiery and ebullient soloing was quite reminiscent of his earlier playing. In 1971 he also recorded another album with Varitone, Just The Way It Was - Live At The Left Bank, which was released in 2000.

Stitt's productivity dropped in the 1970s due to alcoholism. Stitt had drank heavily since giving up heroin in the late fifties but the abuse was beginning to take its toll. A series of alcohol-induced seizures caused Stitt to abstain and kick the habit for good. Stitt said of this time: "It was pitiful, man...I was really a slave. I've come back from the dead, because that's where I was, man. I was dead."

Stitt joined the all-star group Giants of Jazz (which also featured Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Kai Winding and bassist Al McKibbon) and made albums for Atlantic, Concord and Emarcy. His last recordings were made in Japan. A rejuvenated Stitt also toured with Red Holloway in the late 1970s, who noted a marked improvement in his playing. In 1982, Stitt suffered a heart attack, and he died on July 22 in Washington, D.C..

Discography

As leader/co-leader

  • 1949-50: Sonny Stitt/Bud Powell/J. J. Johnson (Prestige [1956])
  • 1950: Stitt's Bits (Prestige [1958])
  • 1950-52: Kaleidoscope (Prestige [1957])
  • 1954: Jazz at the Hi-Hat (Roost)
  • 1954: The Battle of Birdland (Roost) with Eddie Davis
  • 1955: Sonny Stitt Plays Arrangements from the Pen of Quincy Jones (Roost)
  • 1956: Sonny Stitt Plays (Roost)
  • 1956: New York Jazz (Verve)
  • 1956: For Musicians Only (Verve) with Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz
  • 1957: 37 Minutes and 48 Seconds with Sonny Stitt (Roost)
  • 1957: Personal Appearance (Verve)
  • 1957: Sonny Stitt with the New Yorkers (Roost)
  • 1957: Only the Blues (Verve)
  • 1957: Sonny Side Up (Verve) with Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins
  • 1958: The Saxophones of Sonny Stitt (Roost)
  • 1958: Sonny Stitt (Argo)
  • 1958: Burnin' (Argo)
  • 1959: The Hard Swing (Verve)
  • 1959: Sonny Stitt Plays Jimmy Giuffre Arrangements (Verve)
  • 1959: A Little Bit of Stitt (Roost)
  • 1959: Sonny Stitt Sits in with the Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve) with Oscar Peterson
  • 1959: The Sonny Side of Stitt (Roost)
  • 1959: Sonny Stitt Blows the Blues (Verve)
  • 1959: Saxophone Supremacy (Verve)
  • 1959: Sonny Stitt Swings the Most (Verve)
  • 1960: Stittsville (Roost)
  • 1960: Previously Unreleased Recordings (Prestige)
  • 1960: Sonny Side Up (Roost)
  • 1961: The Sensual Sound of Sonny Stitt (Verve) with the Ralph Burns Strings
  • 1961: Sonny Stitt at the D. J. Lounge (Argo)
  • 1961: Dig Him! (Argo) with Gene Ammons
  • 1961: Boss Tenors (Verve) with Gene Ammons
  • 1962: Stitt Meets Brother Jack (Prestige) with Jack McDuff
  • 1962: Boss Tenors in Orbit! (Verve) with Gene Ammons
  • 1962: Soul Summit (Prestige) with Gene Ammons and Jack McDuff
  • 1962: Feelin's (Roost)
  • 1962: Low Flame (Jazzland)
  • 1960–62: Stitt in Orbit (Roost)
  • 1962: Sonny Stitt & the Top Brass (Atlantic)
  • 1962: Rearin' Back (Argo)
  • 1963: Stitt Plays Bird (Atlantic)
  • 1963: My Mother's Eyes (Pacific Jazz) with Charles Kynard
  • 1963: Move on Over (Argo)
  • 1963: Now! (Impulse!)
  • 1963: Salt And Pepper (Impulse)
  • 1963: Soul Shack (Prestige)
  • 1963: Stitt Goes Latin (Roost)
  • 1963: Primitivo Soul! (Prestige)
  • 1964: My Main Man (Argo) with Bennie Green
  • 1964: Shangri-La (Prestige) with Don Patterson
  • 1964: Soul People (Prestige) with Booker Ervin and Don Patterson
  • 1965: Inter-Action (Cadet) with Zoot Sims
  • 1965: Broadway Soul (Colpix)
  • 1965: Concerto For Jazz Lovers/JustDust (Wingate) (Single)
  • 1965: Stitt's Groove (Wingate) (Single)
  • 1965: The Double-O-Soul of Sonny Stitt Part1/Part2 (Wingate) (Single)
  • 1965: Sax Expressions (Roost)
  • 1965: Live at Ronnie Scott's
  • 1965: The Matadors Meet the Bull (Roulette)
  • 1965: Pow! (Prestige)
  • 1965: Night Crawler (Prestige) with Don Patterson
  • 1966: Soul in the Night (Cadet) with Bunky Green
  • 1966: What's New!!! (Roulette)
  • 1966: I Keep Comin' Back! (Roulette)
  • 1966: Deuces Wild (Atlantic) with Robin Kenyatta
  • 1967: Parallel-a-Stitt (Roulette)
  • 1968: Made for Each Other (Delmark)
  • 1968: Soul Electricity! (Prestige)
  • 1968: Come Hither (Solid State)
  • 1969: Night Letter (Prestige)
  • 1969: Little Green Apples (Solid State)
  • 1971: Turn It On! (Prestige)
  • 1971: You Talk That Talk! (Prestige) with Gene Ammons
  • 1971: Black Vibrations (Prestige)
  • 1971: Just the Way It Was (Hyena)
  • 1972: Tune-Up! (Cobblestone)
  • 1972: Goin' Down Slow (Prestige)
  • 1972: Constellation (Cobblestone)
  • 1972: So Doggone Good (Prestige)
  • 1972: 12! (Muse)
  • 1973: Mr. Bojangles (Cadet)
  • 1973: The Champ (Muse)
  • 1973: God Bless Jug and Sonny (Prestige) with Gene Ammons
  • 1973: Left Bank Encores (Prestige) with Gene Ammons
  • 1973: Together Again for the Last Time (Prestige) with Gene Ammons
  • 1974: Satan (Cadet)
  • 1975: Never Can Say Goodbye (Cadet)
  • 1975: Mellow (Muse)
  • 1975: Dumpy Mama (Flying Dutchman)
  • 1975: My Buddy: Sonny Stitt Plays for Gene Ammons (Muse)
  • 1975: Blues for Duke (Muse)
  • 1976: Stomp Off Let's Go (Flying Dutchman)
  • 1976: Forecast: Sonny & Red (Catalyst) with Red Holloway
  • 1977: I Remember Bird (Catalyst)
  • 1977: Sonny Stitt with Strings: A Tribute to Duke Ellington (Catalyst)
  • 1978: The Sonny Stitt Quintet (Finite)
  • 1978: Sonny Stitt Meets Sadik Hakim (Progressive)
  • 1979: Zimbo Convida Sonny Stitt (Clam) with the Zimbo Trio
  • 1980: Groovin' High (Atlas)
  • 1980: Atlas Blues "Blow & Ballad" (Atlas)
  • 1980: Sonny's Back (Muse)
  • 1981: In Style (Muse)
  • 1981: Sonny, Sweets and Jaws: Live at Bubbas, Who's Who in Jazz (with Harry "Sweets" Edison, Eddie Lockjaw Davis)
  • 1981: Just in Case You Forgot How Bad He Really Was
  • 1982: The Last Stitt Sessions (Muse)

As sideman

With Gene Ammons

  • All Star Sessions (Prestige, 1950–55)

With Art Blakey

  • A Jazz Message (Impulse!, 1963)
  • In Walked Sonny (Sonet, 1975)
  • With Dizzy Gillespie
  • Duets (Verve, 1957)
  • The Giants of Jazz (Atlantic, 1971) with Art Blakey, Al McKibbon, Thelonious Monk and Kai Winding
  • The Bop Session (Sonet, 1975) with John Lewis, Hank Jones, Percy Heath and Max Roach
  • With Milt Jackson
  • Loose Walk (Palcoscenico, 1980)

With Don Patterson

  • Patterson's People (Prestige, 1964)
  • The Boss Men (Prestige, 1965)
  • Funk You! (Prestige, 1968)
  • Brothers-4 (Prestige, 1969)
  • Donny Brook (Prestige, 1969)
  • Tune Up! (Prestige, 1964–69)

With Zimbo Trio

  • Zimbo Trio invites Sonny Stitt, (1979) Clam/Continental

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