Sonny Stitt

1946-1950

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Born in Boston, raised in Saginaw, and initiated into the life of a professional jazz musician in Detroit, Sonny Stitt liked to tell the story of meeting up with Charlie Parker inside of the Gypsy Tea Room at 18th and Vine in Kansas City. Backed only by a pianist, the two men jousted for a while with their saxophones before Bird stopped and said, "You sound too much like me." "Well," replied Stitt, "you sound too much like me!" Listening through the first 16 tracks of this fine early bop collection, one can hear why Stitt took a lot of flack for appearing to imitate Parker, although in a larger sense the new musical ideas were in the air for all to access and enlarge upon. Stitt, an original talent, nevertheless switched from alto to tenor in 1949 to eliminate the comparison. He would also make quite a number of excellent recordings using the baritone before settling into almost exclusive tenor sax artistry for the rest of his life. The 1946 Savoy recordings issued here are cutting-edge bebop adventures driven by the brilliance of pianist and composer Bud Powell and wonderfully enhanced by the interplay between Stitt and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. The second Savoy session is greatly fortified by the influence of primal bop percussionist Kenny Clarke. Powell's formidable excursion "Serenade to a Square" is perhaps the toughest tune in this bag of undiluted bop exercises. Back in Detroit for a couple of Sensation recording dates in June 1948, Stitt collaborated first with Milt Jackson, producing a version of "Stardust" that may have inspired the vibes/alto ballad formula that Earl Bostic began using in 1950. The rest of the Stitt/Jackson material is exceptionally fine, with Russell Jacquet, Sir Charles Thompson, and Ray Brown joining the fray on the second of these two interesting dates. Yet all of these hot sides feel almost like preliminaries compared with eight marvelous Prestige recordings made in December 1949 and January 1950 by a quartet led by Bud Powell and featured Curly Russell and Max Roach. These outstanding tracks are the crowning glory of the album, with Powell in excellent form and Stitt blowing tenor like a demigod.

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