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Sonny Stitt

Sonny Stitt American jazz saxophonist

American jazz saxophonist
Sonny Stitt
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American jazz saxophonist
A.K.A. Edward Stitt, Edward Boatner, Jr
Was Musician Saxophonist Jazz musician
From United States of America
Gender male
Birth 2 February 1924, Boston, USA
Death 22 July 1982, Washington, D.C., USA (aged 58 years)
Star sign AquariusAquarius
The details


Edward Hammond Boatner Jr. (February 2, 1924 – July 22, 1982), known professionally as Sonny Stitt, was an American jazz saxophonist of the bebop/hard bop idiom. Known for his warm tone, 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 because of his relentless touring and devotion to jazz. Stitt was sometimes viewed as a Charlie Parker mimic, especially earlier in his career, but gradually came to develop his own sound and style, particularly when performing on tenor saxophone.

Early life

Edward Hammond 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. He was given up for adoption in 1924 by his father and adopted by the Stitt family in Saginaw. He later began calling himself "Sonny". While in high school in Saginaw, he played in the Len Francke Band, a local popular swing band.

In 1943, Stitt met Charlie Parker. As he often recalled, the two men had similar styles. 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 said of Stitt, "Even if there had not been a Bird, there would have been a Sonny Stitt."

During the 1940s, he played alto saxophone as a member of Tiny Bradshaw's big band, Billy Eckstine's big band with Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon, and Dizzy Gillespie's big band.

Stitt was a leader of Bebop Boys and Galaxy in 1946 and 1948 respectively.

Stitt, when playing tenor saxophone, seemed to break free from some of the criticism that he was imitating Parker's style, and he began to develop a far more distinctive sound on tenor. He played with other bop musicians including Horace Parlan, 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 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."

In 1952, Stitt had played with pianist Jimmy Jones and in 1953 performed orchestral music with Johnny Richards. In 1955, he played under Quincy Jones' guidance, playing uptempos and ballads such as "My Funny Valentine" and "Star Dust" and the same year performed "Afterwards" and "There Will Never Be Another You" with Hank Jones. In 1957, Stitt had joined Dolo Coker to perform "Blues for Yard" and "Blue Moon", before returning to Hank to perform "Cherokee".

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 Parker on the album Stitt Plays Bird, which features Jim Hall on guitar.

Stitt recorded several times with his friend 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 dueling partnerships in jazz, alongside Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and Johnny Griffin with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Stitt ventured 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 1964. Around that time he 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 managed to record four albums; Turn It On! with Leon Spencer, Melvin Sparks, Idris Muhammad, and Virgil Jones, You Talk That Talk! with Gene Ammons and George Freeman as new members of the group, Just The Way It Was - Live At The Left Bank with Don Patterson and Billy James, and Black Vibrations which featured the same group as in Turn It On!. Just The Way It Was - Live At The Left Bank which was released in 2000 also featured Stitt as an electric saxophone player, which was the first album which encompassed it.

Stitt's productivity dropped in the 1970s due to alcoholism. Stitt had drunk heavily since giving up heroin in the late fifties and the abuse was beginning to take its toll. A series of alcohol-induced seizures caused Stitt to abstain and kick the habit for good.

In 1975, Sonny had performed with Ron Burton, Major Holley an John Lewis at the Village Vanguard.

Stitt joined the all-star group The 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 1981, Stitt had performed with George Duvivier and Jimmy Cobb, Six weeks before his death, Stitt had recorded two last consecutive sessions which were with George Duvivier, Jimmy Cobb, Bill Hardman and either with Junior Mance or Walter Davis Jr. on piano.

In 1982, Stitt was diagnosed with cancer, and he died on July 22 in Washington, D.C..

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Sonny Stitt among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.


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)
  • 1953: Sonny Stitt Playing Arrangements from the Pen of Johnny Richards (Roost)
  • 1954: Jazz at the Hi-Hat (Roost)
  • 1954: The Battle of Birdland (Roost) with Eddie "Lockjaw" 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
  • 1956: 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 (Verve)
  • 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 (reissued on Prestige as We'll Be Together Again in 1969)
  • 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: "The Double-O-Soul of Sonny Stitt, Part 1"/"The Double-O-Soul of Sonny Stitt, Part 2" (Wingate) (Single)
  • 1965: "Concerto For Jazz Lovers"/"Just Dust" (Wingate) (Single)
  • 1965: "Stitt's Groove"/"Marr's Groove" (Wingate) (Single) with Hank Marr
  • 1965: Sax Expressions (Roost)
  • 1965: Live at Ronnie Scott's (Ronnie Scott's Jazz House) with Dick Morrissey
  • 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) released 1972
  • 1968: Soul Electricity! (Prestige)
  • 1968: Little Green Apples (Solid State)
  • 1968: Come Hither (Solid State)
  • 1969: It's Magic (Delmark) released 2005
  • 1969: Night Letter (Prestige)
  • 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)
  • 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 (32 Jazz)
  • 1983: The Last Stitt Sessions (Muse)
  • 1988: Sonny Stitt Featuring Howard McGhee (Jazz Life) with Howard McGhee

As sideman

With Gene Ammons

  • All Star Sessions (Prestige, 1950–55 [1959])
  • Jug and Sonny (Chess, 1948–51 [1960])
  • Boss Tenors (Verve, 1961)
  • Boss Tenors in Orbit! (Verve, 1962)
  • Soul Summit (Prestige, 1962)
  • You Talk That Talk! (Prestige, 1971)
  • God Bless Jug and Sonny (Prestige, 1973)
  • Left Bank Encores (Prestige, 1973)
  • Together Again for the Last Time (Prestige, 1974)

With Art Blakey

  • A Jazz Message (Impulse!, 1963)
  • In Walked Sonny (Sonet, 1975)

With Miles Davis

  • Miles Davis in Stockholm 1960 Complete with John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt (Dragon, 1992)

With Dizzy Gillespie

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 Oscar Peterson

  • The Oscar Peterson Trio with Sonny Stitt, Roy Eldridge and Jo Jones at Newport (Verve, 1957)

With Zimbo Trio

  • Zimbo Convida Sonny Stitt (Clam, 1979)
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 09 Apr 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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